56. Memorandum of Discussion at the 406th Meeting of the National Security Council0

[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and Agenda Item 1. “Western European Dependence on Middle East Petroleum.”]

[Page 211]

2. Priorities for Ballistic Missiles and Space Programs (NSC Actions Nos. 1846, 1941, 1956 and 2013;1 Memo for NSC from Executive Secretary, same subject, dated May 7, 19592)

Mr. Gray presented this subject to the Council. (A copy of Mr. Gray’s briefing note is filed in the Minutes of the Meeting and another is attached to this Memorandum.)3

Secretary Dillon called attention to NSC Action 1956 which requires Presidential approval before the launching of any satellite capable of reconnaissance over the U.S.S.R., and asked whether Action 1956 would be affected by the proposed action on priorities for ballistic missiles and space programs. The President said NSC Action 1956 would not be affected; and Mr. Gray indicated that the Record of Action would make this point clear.

Secretary McElroy said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had recently recommended that the Council consider adding other defense programs, notably Minuteman, to the priority list. He had heretofore resisted lengthening the priority list but was now about convinced that Minuteman should be included even though it was not a space program.

The President pointed out that the action the Council was about to adopt included defense programs as well as space programs. He said that the purpose of the action was to determine programs which have equal claims on scarce resources. If a program is being conducted for psychological reasons only, we must look at it with a jaundiced eye. On the other hand, we cannot pretend that we are not going to press forward rapidly on certain programs which have primarily psychological purposes; e.g., “man in space.”

In response to a question from Mr. Gray, Secretary McElroy said he thought he would recommend that Minuteman should be an additional priority item, but he was not quite ready to bring the matter before the Council at this meeting.

[Page 212]

The President wondered if missile bases could not be simplified when Minuteman became operational. He had been told that Titan bases cost $80 million each and asked if this figure was correct. Dr. York4 replied in the affirmative. The President said that if possible we should save money on the launching bases and put the money thus saved into the missile itself. We must cut the cost of our missile programs or go broke. He wondered whether Minuteman would simplify the base complexes very materially. Secretary McElroy said the hardened Titan launching sites require an incredibly complex construction, particularly for storage of the missile fuel. Minuteman on the other hand has the fuel in the missile at all times. It was the intention of the Defense Department to press forward on the development of Minuteman. He pointed out, however, that any development policy on ICBM’s was contingent on the possibility of a rapid development of the second generation missile.

The President felt that the development of storable liquid fuels would be a great advantage. The best scientific brains should be at work on how to handle liquid fuel without building such expensive bases, pending the development of solid fuels.

The National Security Council:5

Noted and discussed the memorandum on the subject by the Acting Secretary, National Aeronautics and Space Council, transmitted by the reference memorandum of May 7, 1959.

Noted that the President has established the following programs as having the highest priority above all others for research and development and for achieving operational capability; scope of the operational capability to be approved by the President:

(Order of listing does not indicate priority of one program over another)

Atlas (ICBM) Weapon System.
Titan (ICBM) Weapon System.
Thor–Jupiter (IRBM) Weapon Systems.
Polaris (FBM) Weapon System.
Anti-missile missile defense weapon system, including active defense and related early warning for defense of the United States proper.
Space programs determined by the President on advice of the National Aeronautics and Space Council to have objectives having key political, scientific, psychological or military import.
Noted that the President has designated the following projects under the category specified in b–(6) above:
  • Sentry (Satellite-borne visual and ferret reconnaissance system).
  • Discoverer (satellite guidance and recovery).
  • Mercury (manned satellite).
Noted that the actions in b and c above did not change the requirement contained in NSC Action No. 1956–b for Presidential authorization with respect to the launching of development satellites capable of reconnaissance over the USSR and the subsequent scope of the operational capability of the advanced reconnaissance satellite program.
Noted the statement by the President that all feasible efforts should be made to reduce the costs of the liquid fuel ICBM weapon systems, especially the costs of bases.

Note: The above actions, as approved by the President to supersede NSC Action No. 1846, subsequently circulated for the information of the National Security Council, and referred to the Secretary of Defense and the Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration for appropriate implementation.

[Here follow Agenda Items 3. “Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security,” 4. “U.S. Policy Toward Korea,” and 5. “U.S. Policy Toward Taiwan and the Government of the Republic of China.”]

Marion W. Boggs
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Boggs.
  2. Regarding NSC Action No. 1846, see footnote 2, Document 5. Regarding NSC Action No. 1941, see footnote 1, Document 32. In NSC Action No. 1956, taken July 31, 1958, and approved by the President on August 4, the NSC noted Presidential approval for planning purposes of the advanced reconnaissance satellite program presented by the Department of Defense. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council) The text of NSC Action No. 1956 is included in the memorandum of discussion at the NSC meeting held July 31, 1958. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records) For text, see the Supplement. Regarding NSC Action No. 2013, see footnote 6, Document 41.
  3. Not found.
  4. This note states that in March 1959, the Department of Defense had recommended removal of Vanguard-Jupiter C programs from, and addition of the Sentry, Discoverer, and Mercury programs to, the priority list adopted in NSC Action No. 1846, and had also recommended that henceforth changes in priorities for space programs be made by the President on advice of the NASC. According to the note, the President had approved these changes on advice of the NASC on April 27, 1959. See the Supplement.
  5. Dr. Herbert F. York, Director of Defense Research and Engineering.
  6. The following paragraphs and note constitute NSC Action No. 2081, approved by the President on May 18. (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)