32. Memorandum of Discussion at the 375th Meeting of the National Security Council0

[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and Agenda Items 1. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security,” and 2. “The Situation in the Near East.”]

3. Recent Developments Regarding U.S. Long-Range Ballistic Missiles Programs (NSC Actions Nos. 1846 and 1941)1

Mr. Gray said that current discussions in the press had prompted him to ask the Department of Defense to make a report on recent developments in U.S. long-range missile programs.

Mr. Holaday, the Director of Guided Missiles, then reported on the Jupiter, Thor, Titan, Atlas and Polaris programs:

Jupiter: This missile has been tested in five successful and four partly successful flights. A number of technical difficulties, such as turbo-pump problems and the loss of bearings and shafts due to overloading, were being overcome. On July 17 a Jupiter traveled 1250 nautical miles and missed its assigned target by only 1.4 nautical miles. This very successful flight had checked out all components of the missile, including the guidance system. In August a test with complete guidance and solid verniers would be held; in September a fast-fueling system would be tested. By December, five launchers and their missiles would be ready. The first Jupiter squadron would be complete in 1959.

Thor: Twenty tests of Thor had included eight successful flights, eight partly successful flights, and four failures. A new flame deflector had been developed to solve propulsion problems, and a new thrust bearing was overcoming guidance problems. Turbo-pump difficulties similar to those affecting Jupiter were being overcome. Missile 117 had made a completely successful flight on automatic pilot. A guidance test would be conducted in September; final tests of guidance and nose cone separation would be held in September, October and November. The first squadron of Thor would be deployed to the United Kingdom in December 1958, if negotiations with the United Kingdom were successful.

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Atlas: Ten tests had included four successful flights, five partly successful flights, and one failure. Turbo-pump and flame deflector problems had developed, and 800 pounds had been added to the missile in an effort to solve the flame deflector difficulty. The Atlas test last Saturday had been an important milestone, demonstrating that the missile could dump its first two engines and separate the nose cone. An automatic pilot, rather than a complete guidance system, was used on this flight; but guidance components were used to determine the range by cutting off the engines, and the desired range was missed by only five miles. Two more tests of the separation of engines and nose cones were scheduled for this fall; the first Atlas squadron would be ready in July 1959.

Mr. Holaday then said it was important for the Council to realize that Atlas flights scheduled for September and November were intended to test the structure of the missile under maximum acceleration—under conditions more severe than normal operating conditions. As a result, one or two missiles would probably be lost in a rather spectacular way. However, such losses were necessary in order to determine how much stress Atlas can take. In these tests, 6500-mile flights with separation of engines and nose cones would be attempted.

Titan: This missile, a “follow-on ICBM”, has developed difficulties in engine control in static tests. Components now under test in Denver and at Cape Canaveral will not be launched in flight; but in late September a launching will test the engines and structural strength of the missile.

Polaris: Trouble has been experienced with the first stage of this missile, but a full-duration run of the second stage was successful, marking an important milestone. However, the first Polaris missiles will have a range of only 1100–1200, instead of 1500, miles. The state of the art is such that the range cannot be extended to 1500 miles until there are breakthroughs in steel and solid-propellant technology. The Polaris “pop-up” (its initial ejection from the submarine before ignition of engines) has been tested nine times, and all nine tests were successful. The keels of three Polaris submarines have been laid, and contracts have been let for two more. Navigation and survey ships are working in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, and communications facilities are under construction in Maine. It is hoped that the first Polaris submarine will be available in April 1960.

The President asked what navigation and survey ships were doing in the Mediterranean in connection with Polaris. Mr. Holaday replied that they were establishing reference points from which a Polaris submarine could locate itself within a few hundred yards. This was part of an effort to solve the difficult navigation problems involved in accurate firing of missiles from submarines.

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The President asked whether we would have to establish such navigation points in all the oceans, including the Pacific and the Arctic. Mr. Holaday replied in the affirmative. The President said that a year or so ago the Navy had asserted that it had developed methods of navigation which would solve the problem of firing missiles from submarines. At that time he thought the Navy was talking about a new system of navigation, not a series of hitching posts around the world.

The President, recalling that he had frequently complained about Washington predictions, then referred to publicity from the Pentagon indicating that we would try to send a Thor rocket, with a Vanguard fastened on, to the moon in September. He was unable to understand why we needed to predict that we would hit the moon in September, or why we should say what equipment would be used. We should accomplish these feats first, and then we would have something to talk about. Moreover, he could not understand why, when we announced a test of this kind, we emphasized all the difficulties and possibilities of failure.

Secretary McElroy said the difficulties of a moon-shot were being emphasized to prepare the public for the failure of the initial try—and unless we were quite lucky, the first shot would fail. Information about the moon-shot was being released because there was great public interest in it.

The President inquired why we had to say we were shooting for the moon. Secretary McElroy said Cape Canaveral was open to public view, and that newspaper men assigned there, after having been briefed by scientists, had a rather accurate idea of what the various missiles were intended to do.

The President said that we are struggling for a psychological victory. If we are successful in our moon-shot, we have discounted that success in advance by talking about it too much. The President then asked why we were placing a Titan battery in Denver.

Mr. Holaday said the Titan site would be quite far from the center of the city. The first and second Titan squadrons were being located near Denver because of the availability of Government property and the proximity of manufacturing plants. The third squadron would be in South Dakota and the fourth in Idaho.

The President said that as soon as construction on missile sites begins, Denver becomes even more of a target city than it is already by virtue of its research and ordnance plants and its airfield. Why couldn’t Titan have been located elsewhere—say, Pueblo?

Mr. Holaday said the cost of military installations would be greatly increased if they were located at a distance from large cities. The President thought such installations could be located in several small cities instead of being concentrated in one large city.

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Mr. Holaday pointed out that Atlas was being widely deployed in order to increase its chances of survival under attack.

The President concluded this discussion with the remark that he was growing tired of our inability to keep anything secret.

The National Security Council:2

Noted and discussed an oral report on the subject by the Director of Guided Missiles, with specific reference to the Jupiter, Thor, Atlas, Titan and Polaris programs.

[Here follow Agenda Items 4. “U.S. Policy Toward Korea,” 5. “U.S. Policy Toward Africa South of the Sahara Prior to Calendar Year 1960,” 6. “Technical Surveillance Countermeasures” (included in the Supplement) and 7, “U.S. Policy on Antartica.”]

Marion W. Boggs
NSC Secretariat
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Boggs on August 8.
  2. NSC Action No. 1941 was approved by the President on July 3. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council) The action noted the priorities for ballistic missile and satellite programs as described in paragraph 5, Annex B, NSC 5814, “Preliminary U.S. Policy on Outer Space,” dated June 20. (ibid., S/PNSC Files: Lot 62 D1, NSC 5814 Series) For text of NSC 5814/1, including Annex B (but not A), see vol. II, pp. 845863.
  3. The following paragraph constitutes NSC Action No. 1959, approved by the President on August 11. (ibid., S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)