How Our Space Policy Evolved

April 1, 1962

A few days after Russia led the world into the Space Age with the launching of Sput­nik I, a high official of the Eisenhower Administration said the event would be forgotten in six months.

That was some fifty-four months ago. They have been fifty-four months in which the United States has approached the military potential of space on tiptoe while the Russians are coming to the point where they may soon flaunt their space-based weap­ons with the same vigor with which they rattle their rockets. Sputnik has not been forgotten on either side of the Iron Curtain, but there is a sharp contrast between the space programs of the US and the USSR.

Majors Gagarin and Titov were widely publicized as officers of the Red Air Force, and there is little doubt, as Dr. Walter Dornberger has said, that the Russians will use space for military purposes when they are ready “and an excuse to do it will be found easily.” Lt. Col. John Glenn, on the other hand, wore the space equivalent of civilian clothes while on his orbital mission. The Secretary of the Navy, who is Glenn’s immediate civilian boss, was not invited to accompany President Kennedy to Cape Canaveral for the homecoming honors there. The Astronaut was given the Distinguished Service Medal of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The award of his other big prize, the Navy’s astronaut wings, was postponed until a Pentagon ceremony where Colonel Glenn could wear his uniform without calling public attention to the fact that he is a Marine.

The idea that this kind of sleight of hand is only window dressing, and nothing more, is erroneous. Both domestic and international politics are involved. At the top level, President Eisenhower relegated the military services to a support role in a modest US space program. The Kennedy Administration has ex­panded the program but still considers the military mission a hitchhiker on a civilian lunar express.

Colonel Glenn, when he flew three times around the world in Friendship 7, was playing a support role, just as was the Air Force in providing the boost that put him into space and the Navy who found and fished him out of the Atlantic. The Mercury project itself, between concept and achievement, was shifted from its parent service—USAF—to NASA, primarily for political reasons.

There are many facets to this intricate kind of politics, and no single essay can do justice to them all. We can consider the personal persuasions of Dwight Eisenhower, of a great part of the scientific community, service rivalries in the Pentagon, Defense Department organization, and the contest for juris­diction on Capitol Hill. There are the factors of deeply held personal conviction in the areas of the national economy, the federal budget, and technology itself. There is the “image” of the US, our relations with our allies, the neutral nations, and Soviet Russia. The US Information Agency influences the creation of the story it will have to tell to the world. There are the moral propagandists—those who believe the “peace” label on our national program will ensure that space will remain a laboratory rather than become a battlefield.

Against this combination of forces the case for an urgent military effort in space was outvoted. The idea that space is an extension of the atmosphere and that it will be disastrous to have it dominated by an unfriendly power is one that only now, in early 1962, appears to be gaining credence in policy circles. There are some signs of a backswing of the pendulum in statements by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson; Dr. Hugh L. Dryden, Deputy Administrator of NASA; Dr. Edward C. Welsh, Executive Secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, and a few members of Congress. But the White House, which has admitted the urgency for the resumption of nuclear testing in view of Soviet conduct in this area, clings to the concept that in space Moscow may be clean-living.

President Kennedy, at this writing, has proposed a five-point cooperative program in space exploration for the US and USSR. Nikita Khrushchev replied, on the first day of spring, with a cautious acceptance that is a good deal broader than the initial White House suggestions. Linked to the Moscow agreement for talks is a limitation: cooperation in space will hinge on a general and complete disarmament understand­ing.

What this portends for our existing and inadequate military space program only time and the conferees can tell. It may be that Mr. Khrushchev, in the arena of international politics, will force a domestic political decision sooner than anyone expected. If he demands abolishment of such US projects as Samos, Midas, or Dyna-Soar as threats to his country, there will be Americans willing to say yes and others who insist we must say no.

Because of the Iron Curtain and Soviet zeal on the subject of security, the initial military space require­ments of the two nations are vastly different. Our need is for inspection, warning, and detection abilities. Theirs is for strategic weapon systems. Both of these fundamentals will bear heavy weight at the United Nations’ conference tables.

Connecticut’s Senator Thomas J. Dodd has said that unless the Russians agree to open up their ter­ritory to inspection “we must assume the worst about their intentions in space.

“We must assume that [their] design for world conquest will be manifested in outer space as it is on earth. We must assume that they are at this very moment engaged in a massive effort to develop military space capabilities with a view to forcing the submission of the free world.” But this is a voice in the wilderness.

At the moment there is no doubt that peaceful exploration is our top national goal. This goes back, according to historians of the International Geo­physical Year, to the results of that program, which was going on while the Russians were building Sputnik. Walter Sullivan of the New York Times has written that “the atmosphere created by the IGY made it acceptable to Congress that the United States space program, as framed in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, be cast in an international mold.”

It was, in fact, not that simple. President Eisen­hower, who went to Korea to end that war, had his eye on a place in history as a military hero who revolted against war. He found—in the IGY and its early satellite program—a convenient launching spot for an effort to keep arms out of space. This theme was carried to the extreme that he, an experienced military officer, at one point denied there could be any military potential in a lunar effort.

The Eisenhower thesis found eager support from a substantial segment of the scientific community. These men also were motivated by their own peculiar type of forces, political in the sense that they were essentially unscientific. It was during World War II that the American scientist had his first sustained shoulder-to-shoulder contact with the military com­munity. It was not a happy relationship in all respects, as the scientists were exposed to an organization that turned their research into weapons of devastation, climaxing the effort with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many scientists were aghast, then tortured with. guilt. That was not all. The military had translated the pressure to win the biggest war in history into almost intolerable pressures on American technology. It had to turn to civilian scientists for it could not claim any great degree of scientific capability for itself. In those days, in the struggle for better airplanes, engines, radar, bombsights, and communications, the few uniformed technicians for the most part were themselves in an on-the-job training program. Many of the pure scientists found their relationships with the military in large degree repugnant to the scientific method; they resented the pressures, the destructive use of their talent, and the fact that they were forced to extend their monitorship so far into the produc­tion lines.

There is no doubt that this experience is respon­sible for the wide revulsion aroused among scientists by what they call the “military mentality.” Many scientists, still shuddering from their wartime experi­ence, continue to give strong support to any program that curtails military control and potential military use of their technological achievements.

There was a sharp manifestation of this attitude when President Eisenhower, recoiling from the impact of Sputnik and the charges that he and his top execu­tives had neglected the vital science frontier, picked Dr. James Killian, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as his personal scientific adviser. Dr. Killian most certainly was the antithesis of such cabinet officers as Charles E. Wilson, who professed no interest in basic research and said his Defense Department money should be spent only on develop­ment projects that were aimed at the perfection of particular weapons.

More administrator than scientist himself, Dr. Kil­lian had been exposed to all factions in the techno­logical community. MIT had been an important mili­tary contractor since it was hurled into areas of electronic wizardry in World War II and made im­portant contributions to our defense posture. There Dr. Killian had been associated both with the men who were determined to make concepts work and the more conservative types, such as Dr. Vannevar Bush, who once told a congressional committee that it was impossible to build an ICBM. It took a com­mittee of equally eminent scientists, headed by John von Neumann, to break that particular bottleneck by insisting the weapon was feasible.

The influence of Dr. Killian rarely came to the surface but there were decisions made at the White House and he sat at a desk next door in the Executive Office Building. Less than a week after he took office the President was moved to report to the people, and he set up official criteria for decisions on space projects:

“If the project is designed solely for scientific purposes, its size and its cost must be tailored to the scientific job it is going to do.

“If the project has some ultimate defense value, its urgency for this purpose is to be judged in com­parison with the probable value of competing defense projects.”

There were other actions. The Secretary of Defense named a Director of Guided Missiles to “direct all activities in the DoD relating to research, development, engineering, production, and procurement of guided missiles.” The fact that guided missiles were certain to provide the bulk of propulsion for early space probes certainly had not been overlooked in this move to extend the civilian control over military technology. This was November 15, 1957.

At this point the Air Force, possibly sensing the nose of a camel in its tent, decided that management steps were needed to integrate its own long-standing capabilities in the Ballistic Missile Division and soon-to-be-related competence in bioastronautics, guidance, and other essentials. A new Directorate of Astronautics was activated at headquarters and im­mediately was forced to shut its doors by Donald A. Quarles, then Deputy Secretary of Defense. Mr. Quarles acted after hearing a stormy protest from William M. Holaday, who had been named Director of Guided Missiles for DoD. A few days later Neil H. McElroy, the Defense Department chief, set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency and described it as a single manager to control space projects and other “upstream” military interests.

Mr. Holaday told a Senate committee that USAF had been trying to jump the gun. Lt. Gen. Clarence S. “Bill” Irvine, then Deputy Chief of Staff, Materiel, said “What we don’t need in Washington are more committees, czars, directors. . . .” Maj. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, then BMD Commander, called ARPA a big mistake. And Dan A. Kimball, President of the Aerojet-General Corp., lamented that the Defense Department had grown into a supergroup that had “taken on the job of reviewing and amending what­ever the services are doing or propose to do.” He warned that ARPA “would only introduce excessive costs, unnecessary delays, and inferior end products from the operational point of view.”

Early in 1958 there was a proposal from the respected and effective National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics that the pattern of the past be fol­lowed into the Space Age and that NACA be teamed with industry, the military, and science to push a national space program. There were forty-two years of precedent for this path. The committee that sug­gested it was headed by James H. Doolittle, who was Chairman both of NACA and USAF’s Scientific Advisory Board. The proposal was warmly endorsed by Dr. Hugh L. Dryden, NACA Director.

There was wide approval of the NACA idea from the people most concerned in the military services and industry. Unhappy with the vagueness of DoD’s plans for ARPA and the possibility that it would develop into a Service of Supply in the research-­and-development area, these interests felt strongly that an existing agency of the government should be used and no time wasted forming new ones.

At this point in the history of our divided effort there appeared a great churning activity in Congress, in little of which was recognition given to NACA’s and USAF’s prior claims to capability. The com­mittees were scrambling for jurisdiction, and the pure political hand was heavy. Yet there was general agreement that control of the space program should be put in civilian hands. There was a proposal for a Department of Science and Technology, fathered by the Senate Committee on Government Operations. From the parallel group in the House came a cry that this would create another layer of bureaucracy and it would be better to have a National Science Council appointed by the President. The Joint Com­mittee on Atomic Energy, not to be left out in the efforts to win control so far as the Capitol is con­cerned, said there should be a Division of Outer Space Development in the Atomic Energy Commission. Proponents of the first plan viewed this as a grab for authority and suggested that the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy itself be replaced by one that deals with the broader subject of science and technology. New committees were created to deal with space.

There were other wranglings, horse-trades, shouts of alarm. The first American satellite, Explorer I, was launched by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology. But close to six months after Sputnik, at the time when it had been predicted nobody would remember the event, almost nothing had been done to get an American space program under way. These same months are cluttered with reports of industry and Air Force efforts to get a green light on advanced proposals. Space projects were brought out from under the table almost every week. USAF initiated development of a single-chamber rocket that could produce a million pounds of thrust. Aerojet-General Corp. proposed to build a five-stage vehicle, based on units designed for the Navy’s Polaris system, that could be used for a moon shot. USAF suggested that Thor, plus a second stage, also could reach the moon. It gave Rocketdyne a research-and-study contract to work on a nuclear rocket engine. The RAND Corp., USAF planning-and-­research agency, came up with Project Lunatic—from Lunar Test Instrument Carrier—that would penetrate the moon’s surface. Propulsion was to come from a USAF Atlas ICBM as the booster. The Army and Navy were in the competition with their own projects in the areas of reconnaissance, communications, and meteorology.

All of these steps toward space grew out of a technological and production competence that the military, particularly USAF, had been building up since World War II. The . qualms of the scientific community, rooted in its wartime experience, had been shaken to the surface in a military buildup triggered by the Korean War. Military technology began to display new capabilities. This was a natural outcome of the emphasis on overcoming deficiencies in in-house research and development areas. USAF was recruiting engineers, scientists, and technologists. It was sending experienced officers to graduate col­leges and building up its own laboratory facilities. The early 1950s had seen creation of the Air Research and Development Command, splitting this activity from procurement and production problems, which were left to the Air Materiel Command. USAF leaned on pure scientists from outside its ranks and the competence of industry.

Probably the greatest moving force in this trend, so far as USAF is concerned, was Dr. Theodore von Kármán, one of the world’s great aeronautical scien­tists. He had found, in the waning months of World War II, a sympathetic ear for the military contribu­tions of science in Gen. Hap Arnold. Together they planned the task force that combed Germany for the fruits of its war research. Von Kármán took a long look at future Air Force needs and wrote the prophetic report—Toward New Horizons. First head of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board—from 1944 to 1955 and then Chairman Emeritus—this distinguished man was first to recognize military deficiencies in technology and, unlike the dominant cult of his con­temporaries, was willing to lay out a program to do something about it. Dr. von Kármán wanted to build a military research-and-development capability that would use all of America’s resources that would be required. Like Dr. Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb, von Kármán came from Hungary and recognized national security as the paramount issue of the cold war. He also knew that technological proficiency alone could save the free world. There was no doubt this proficiency would reach into space and if ours did not measure up, defeat was inevitable.

Of our top USAF officers, the man most influenced by Dr. von Kármán probably is Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, first chief of the Ballistic Missile Division, then of ARDC, now of the Systems Command. In 1958 General Schriever reflected the von Kármán influence when he said: “Today, as never before, our military and civilian aims and actions are inseparable. Our effort is a joint effort because our problem, the survival of freedom, is a joint problem. The challenge is total. Our response must therefore be total.”

This constituted no denial by General Schriever of the military precept that the user should do his own development. Nor of concurrency, the requirement that all the parts and subsystems, no matter how re­cent their origin in technology, had to be geared in their short life to ensure that the finished complete system would work.

The urgency for a “total response” took the direc­tion of nearly unanimous support for the proposal to form the National Aeronautics and Space Administra­tion when hearings were held on Capitol Hill. The new House Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration, later called the Committee on Science and Astronautics, heard the plan endorsed by Lt. Gen. Donald L. Putt, USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Development; Herbert York, Chief Scientist of ARPA; and Wernher von Braun of the Army’s Ballistic Missile Agency. By the time the Senate Committee on Space and Astronautics had concluded hearings it became evident that many military and Defense Department witnesses, even including ARPA Director Roy W. Johnson, were apprehensive that the military require­ments in space were not being given sufficient priority. Yet no military service, including USAF, sug­gested a clear alternative.

But the dominant opinion, at least at the White House, was that civilian missions were more important than the military potential. Dr. Edward C. Welsh, now Executive Secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, has recorded for history that when the Act went to Congress in 1958 it had been phrased by the executive branch so as not to give any mention to a military space mission. Dr. Welsh gives Congress credit for changing the language stipulating Defense responsibility for military space programs and re­quiring an exchange of information between Defense and NASA. It certainly was assumed on Capitol Hill that, in addition to ARPA, the new agency would work closely with the Army’s Redstone Arsenal and take full advantage of ARDC’s broad space technology program which had been under way for several years. The Office of Naval Research also was included among the assets for its experience in upper-air research and the Vanguard program.

It is important to note that on the eve of NASA’s formation there was general acceptance of the com­petence of the USAF-industry team. While ARPA had modified USAF’s role in carrying out its own projects, it was assumed that the service would retain the major role in the national space program and that USAF experience would be the key factor in what General Putt called “the race of man into outer space.” ARPA Director Johnson told Congress “more than half of ARPA’s $520 million program would actually be executed by the US Air Force.”

USAF already had Pied Piper, a reconnaissance satellite system that had been under study and de­velopment for ten years. It had MISS—Man in Space Soonest—and a lunar-probe program. There was Dyna-­Soar and the X-15. USAF’s work in space medicine was in the budget along with these specific projects, and it would contribute to almost all space efforts. The medical project probably is the oldest space technology effort in the nation. BMD would be the backbone of our space propulsion effort.

At the operating level, ARDC had grown in two years from 38,000 men to 43,500, but its work was handicapped by the fluctuating support of research and development since World War II. Although the Administration objective had always been economy, actually the business of canceling programs, starting, accelerating, and slowing them down had wasted millions of dollars. Despite these budget problems ARDC maintained nine development-and-test centers.

Of all USAF’s in-house capabilities, the greatest single concentration was in the Ballistic Missile Divi­sion, which was put in charge of the most compre­hensive military development program in US history. In terms of the application of technology with the goal of producing an operational system, BMD had a problem bigger than the one that faced the Manhattan Project when it built the first atom bomb.

The Atlas ICBM program got a top priority in 1954 and was operational in a little more than five years. Similar speed was shown on the Titan, Thor, and Minuteman projects. The talents that made this pos­sible are identical with those required on space-age hardware.

BMD had a requirement for speeds capable of hurling a warhead out of the atmosphere and for the reentry of the weapon. Guidance systems and over-all reliability had to be of the caliber demanded now for the assault on space. This gave BMD the free world’s top experience in nose-cone design, structural ma­terials, electronic guidance, high-thrust engines, and the design and construction of ground-support equip­ment.

From the time of its formation in the summer of 1958 NASA was an operating agency, unlike its prede­cessor NACA which confined its activities to research. Removed from the ivory-tower role as a producer of basic technological advances to be translated into weapon systems by USAF and industry, NASA has absorbed a long list of projects that originated with the military services, particularly USAF. Its first budget sought $343 million, of which only $125 million was classified as new appropriations in fiscal 1959. The rest was to be transferred from the Defense Department and the old NACA. The budget request for fiscal 1963 totals $3.8 billion. The old NACA had about 8,000 employees. NASA’s staff prediction for fiscal 1963 is 26,273.

The fantastic growth of NASA has brought political pressures on every front. These range from the con­stantly increasing control exercised over military space by Pentagon civilian scientists and budgeteers to the benefactions bestowed on Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Maryland by NASA’s mounting lists of facilities and payrolls. A few weeks ago President Kennedy told a Florida audience—speaking at a Democratic party fund-raising dinner—that Cape Canaveral’s em­ployment is going to grow five times in the next year and that this is “only the beginning.” Land and labor costs are booming in Houston, chosen site of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center.

There is some irony in the fact that the basic Eisen­hower-Killian approach, which provided for no mili­tary exploration of the military potential in space, has been followed in the Kennedy Administration. Robert S. McNamara, the present strong Defense Secretary, has named the Air Force as the department agent to carry out assigned research-and-development missions in space for all the armed forces. The argu­ment that the user of a weapon system should do his own development and that the division of respon­sibility should be on the basis of roles and missions has been bypassed. Charles Hitch, Defense Comptrol­ler, has come up with his “program-package” approach to hardware programs. It means that the space poten­tial must compete in the computing machines with the potential of other systems.

The rub is that the military can introduce to the computer no figures that are concerned with the space environment because, so far, we know so little about it. The military forces, which means principally the Air Force, are constantly asked to “prove the requirement” for any system that is to operate in this great unknown. NASA, on the other hand, can justify with ease any proposal that involves scientific ex­ploration.

There is a vast difference of opinion over the pos­sibility that the military space program, here in 1962, lacks the necessary urgency to ensure our national security if a potential foe turns space into a battle­field. One school holds that purely peaceful explora­tion and exploitation will not produce enough hard­ware or knowledge to meet the military requirement On the other hand the men around Dr. Harold Brown, Defense Department boss of research and develop­ment, point out that the law gives DoD a mission to make sure the military potential is not neglected. I They maintain they are performing the mission.

At top Air Force levels there is no open dispute with this position. Lt. Gen. James Ferguson, USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Technology, emphasizes the close cooperation that has developed between USAF and NASA. He says the programs will be mutually supporting, not competitive. He says the Air Force has ten management agreements with the civilian agency and ninety-three officers assigned to duty there. In a presentation to Congress, the General cited Russian competence in space technol­ogy and said it “may have application to a broad spectrum of military systems.” He disclosed some features of a new Air Force Space Plan that aims “to exploit space so as to retain US military superiority in order to ensure the peaceful use of space” (see page 71).

This approach has support from high civilian offi­cials such as Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sees space as having the potential for “dangers of a new and sinister kind.” And, he added, “it is not useful to pretend that arbitrary distinctions can or should be made” between military and civilian space programs.

Almost at the same time, James E. Webb, NASA Administrator, argues that the President and Congress “have made it clear that the military departments will conduct space research and operations only where these activities are required specifically for military purposes.” It can well be that the require­ment will not be clear until another nation is aggres­sive in space, or at least until military men know more about space as a theater of war. Against NASA’s monster budget for fiscal 1963, the Defense Depart­ment is seeking $1.4 billion for all military astronautic programs.

Mr. Webb’s statement makes it clear that NASA is in research and operations for a long and expensive pull. It seems inevitable that his agency will continue to drain more money and talent from USAF as peace­ful exploration gets America’s top priority. But the military requirement, which is one for exploration to gain familiarity with a potential new battleground, is being subordinated.

This subordination was licensed by the Eisenhower-Killian doctrine, put in operation by a potent group of scientists that finds military missions repugnant, and made prosperous and perhaps permanent by a combination of political and budgetary pressures. The space policy denies full exploitation of the mili­tary potential.