83. Briefing Note for the 374th NSC Meeting1

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Last January, the Council noted (NSC Action No. 1846) that the President had established certain missile and related 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 as approved by the President.”
Included were “satellite programs (other than VANGUARD and JUPITER C determined by the Secretary of Defense to have objectives having key political scientific, psychological or military import.”
On April 10, 1958, Defense advised that pursuant to delegated authority, the Secretary of Defense had determined that the Air Force reconnaissance satellite vehicle program was a satellite program having key political, scientific, psychological or military import.
Before proceeding to the question of operational capability, I am going to call on Mr. Quarles to give the Council a brief report on the status of the reconnaissance satellite program—its progress, objectives, potentials, and priority.
There has been circulated to you a table which shows a proposed launching schedule. I should point out, however, that the Council is not being asked to approve any specific number of test shots. That decision will be worked out in due course through the normal budgetary process. Mr. Stans understands this.


On July 3, there came before the Council the question of Presidential approval of the “scope of the operational capability” of the reconnaissance satellite. The Council noted and discussed a Defense Department recommendation on operational capability, but deferred action on the recommendation pending study and report back to the Council by Dr. Killian on July 31 (NSC Action No. 1941).
Before the Council today is the original Defense recommendation and Dr. Killian’s proposed amendment thereto, as shown on the sheet before you. The JCS have indicated their concurrence with Dr. Killian’s modification, which clarifies the language and makes clear that Presidential authorization will be sought before any actual launching [Typeset Page 281] over the Soviet Union, of a satellite carrying reconnaissance equipment. The modified language reads:


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If that recommendation is adopted, it will authorize the development of an operational capability of 8 Atlas-boosted satellites, although it will leave the decision as to the actual launching to be made later by the President.

(CALL ON: Secretary of Defense (or Deputy SecDef) Dr. Killian )

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Number and Type of Vehicle Some Recon. Equipment Aboard Launching Location Orbit over USSR Schedule
Initial tests
10–19 Thor No South Camp Cooke, Calif. Yes Begin November 1958
5 Atlas Yes Cape Canaveral, Florida No Begin about July 1959, one every other month
21 Atlas Yes South Camp Cooke, Calif. Yes March 1960
Pioneer Visual Recon.
34 Atlas Yes South Camp Cooke, Calif. Yes Begin May 1960, one every other month
Pioneer Ferret (Electronic) Reconnaissance
3 Atlas Yes South Camp Cooke, Calif. Yes Begin August 1960, one every other month

As of June 30, 1958

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Defense Recommendation on the Reconnaissance Satellite (submitted to the NSC on July 3, 1958, NSC Action No. 1941–a) and Proposal for Modification in Dr. Killian’s Recommendation of July 28, 1958

Although a satellite with reconnaissance equipment in orbit over the USSR is not expected to be operational prior to March 1960, it is necessary at this time to plan for the launching of eight test satellites of this general type. Accordingly, it is recommended that the reconnaissance satellite program, including the eight test vehicles which will orbit over the USSR, be approved for planning purposes,

Defense Dr. Killian
with the understanding that Presidential authorization with respect to the scope of the operational capability of the program will be sought by the Department of Defense in early 1960. with the understanding that Presidential authorization with respect to the launching of the eight development satellites capable of reconnaissance over the USSR and the subsequent scope of the operational capability of the program, will be sought by the Department of Defense in early 1960 or prior to the launching of the first of the above eight satellites, whichever date is sooner.
  1. Source: Operational capability of reconnaissance satellites. Top Secret. 4 pp. Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records.
  2. Visual components test. [Footnote is in the original.]
  3. First satellite with reconnaissance equipment that will orbit over USSR. [Footnote is in the original.]