43. Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy0

Dear Mr. President: Having carefully familiarized myself with your message of March 71 of this year, I note with satisfaction that my communication to you of February 212 containing the proposal that our two countries unite their efforts for the conquest of space has met with the necessary understanding on the part of the Government of the United States.

In advancing this proposal, we proceeded from the fact that all peoples and all mankind are interested in achieving the objective of exploration and peaceful use of outer space, and that the enormous scale of this task, as well as the enormous difficulties which must be overcome, urgently demand broad unification of the scientific, technical, and material capabilities and resources of nations. Now, at a time when the space age is just dawning, it is already evident how much man will be called upon to accomplish. If today the genius of man has created space ships capable of reaching the surface of the moon with great accuracy and of launching the first cosmonauts into orbit around the earth, then tomorrow manned spacecraft will be able to race to Mars and Venus, and the farther they travel the wider and more immense the prospects will become for man’s penetration into the depths of the universe.

The greater the number of countries making their contribution to this truly complicated endeavor, which involves great expense, the more swiftly will the conquest of space in the interests of all humanity proceed. And this means that equal opportunities should be made available for all countries to participate in international cooperation in this field. It is precisely this kind of international cooperation that the Soviet Union unswervingly advocates, true to its policy of developing and strengthening friendship between peoples. As far back as the beginning of 1958 the Soviet Government proposed the conclusion of a broad international agreement on cooperation in the field of the study and peaceful use of outer space and took the initiative in raising this question for examination by the United Nations. In 1961, immediately after the first space flight by man had been achieved in the Soviet Union, we reaffirmed our readiness to cooperate and unite our efforts with those of other countries, and most of all with your country, which was then making preparations [Page 128] for similar flights. My message to you of February 21, 1962 was dictated by these same aspirations and directed toward this same purpose.

The Soviet Government considers and has always considered the successes of our country in the field of space exploration as achievements not only of the Soviet people but of all mankind. The Soviet Union is taking practical steps to the end that the fruits of the labor of Soviet scientists shall become the property of all countries. We widely publish notification of all launchings of satellites, spaceships and space rockets, reporting all data pertaining to the orbit of flight, weight of space devices launched, radio frequencies, etc.

Soviet scientists have established fruitful professional contacts with their foreign colleagues, including scientists of your country, in such international organizations as the Committee for Outer Space Research and the International Astronautical Federation.

It seems to me, Mr. President, that the necessity is now generally recognized for further practical steps in the noble cause of developing international cooperation in space research for peaceful purposes. Your message shows that the direction of your thoughts does not differ in essence from what we conceive to be practical measures in the field of such cooperation. What, then, should be our starting point?

In this connection I should like to name several problems of research and peaceful use of space, for whose solution it would in our opinion be important to unite the efforts of nations. Some of them, which are encompassed by the recent U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted at the initiative of our two countries, are also mentioned in your message.

Scientists consider that the use of artificial earth satellites for the creation of international systems of long-distance communication is entirely realistic at the present stage of space research. Realization of such projects can lead to a significant improvement in the means of communication and television all over the globe. People would be provided with a reliable means of communication and hitherto unknown opportunities for broadening contacts between nations would be opened. So let us begin by specifying the definite opportunities for cooperation in solving this problem. As I understood from your message, the U.S.A. is also prepared to do this.
It is difficult to overestimate the advantage that people would derive from the organisation of a world-wide weather observation service using artificial earth satellites. Precise and timely weather prediction would be still another important step on the path to man’s subjugation of the forces of nature; it would permit him to combat more successfully the calamities of the elements and would give new prospects for advancing the well-being of mankind. Let us also cooperate in this field.

It seems to us that it would be expedient to agree upon organising the observation of objects launched in the direction of the moon, Mars, Venus, and other planets of the solar system, by radio-technical and optical means, through a joint program.

As our scientists see it, undoubted advantage would be gained by uniting the efforts of nations for the purpose of hastening scientific progress in the study of the physics of interplanetary space and heavenly bodies.

At the present stage of man’s penetration into space, it would be most desirable to draw up and conclude an international agreement providing for aid in searching for and rescuing space ships, satellites, and capsules that have accidentally fallen. Such an agreement appears all the more necessary, since it might involve saving the lives of cosmonauts, those courageous explorers of the far reaches of the universe.
Your message contains proposals for cooperation between our countries in compiling charts of the earth’s magnetic field in outer space by means of satellites, and also for exchanging knowledge in the field of space medicine. I can say that Soviet scientists are prepared to cooperate in this and to exchange data regarding such questions with scientists of other countries.
I think, Mr. President, that the time has also come for our two countries, which have advanced further than others in space research, to try to find a common approach to the solution of the important legal problems with which life itself has confronted the nations in the space age. In this connection I find it a positive fact that at the UN General Assembly’s 16th session the Soviet Union and the United States were able to agree upon a proposal on the first principles of space law which was then unanimously approved by the members of the UN: a proposal on the applicability of international law, including the UN Charter, in outer space and on heavenly bodies; on the accessibility of outer space and heavenly bodies for research and use by all nations in accordance with international law; and on the fact that space is not subject to appropriation by nations.

Now, in our opinion, it is necessary to go further.

Expansion of space research being carried out by nations definitely makes it necessary to agree also that in conducting experiments in outer space no one should create obstacles for space study and research for peaceful purposes by other nations. Perhaps it should be stipulated that those experiments in space that might complicate space research by other countries should be the subject of preliminary discussion and agreement on an appropriate international basis.

I have named, Mr. President, only some of the questions whose solution has, in our view, now become urgent and requires cooperation between our countries. In the future, international cooperation in the [Page 130] conquest of space will undoubtedly extend to ever newer fields of space exploration if we can now lay a firm foundation for it. We hope that scientists of the USSR and the U.S.A. will be able to engage in working out and realizing the many projects for the conquest of outer space hand in hand, and together with scientists of other countries.

Representatives of the USSR on the UN Space Committee will be given instructions to meet with representatives of the United States in order to discuss concrete questions of cooperation in research and peaceful use of outer space that are of interest to our countries.

Thus, Mr. President, do we conceive of—shall we say—heavenly matters. We sincerely desire that the establishment of cooperation in the field of peaceful use of outer space facilitate the improvement of relations between our countries, the easing of international tension and the creation of a favorable situation for the peaceful settlement of urgent problems here on our own earth.

At the mean time it appears obvious to me that the scale of our cooperation in the peaceful conquest of space, as well as the choice of the lines along which such cooperation would seem possible, is to a certain extent related to the solution of the disarmament problem. Until an agreement on general and complete disarmament is achieved, both our countries will, nevertheless, be limited in their abilities to cooperate in the field of peaceful use of outer space. It is no secret that rockets for military purposes and spacecraft launched for peaceful purposes are based on common scientific and technical achievements. It is true that there are some distinctions here; space rockets require more powerful engines, since by this means they carry greater payloads and attain a higher altitude, while military rockets in general do not require such powerful engines—engines already in existence can carry warheads of great destructive force and assure their arrival at any point on the globe. However, both you and we know, Mr. President, that the principles for designing and producing military rockets and space rockets are the same.

I am expressing these considerations for the simple reason that it would be better if we saw all sides of the question realistically. We should try to overcome any obstacles which may arise in the path of international cooperation in the peaceful conquest of space. It is possible that we shall succeed in doing this, and that will be useful. Considerably broader prospects for cooperation and uniting our scientific-technological achievements up to and including joint construction of spacecraft for reaching other planets—the moon, Venus, Mars—will arise when agreement on disarmament has been achieved.

We hope that agreement on general and complete disarmament will be achieved; we are exerting and will continue to exert every effort toward [Page 131] this end. I should like to believe that you also, Mr. President, will spare no effort in acting along these lines.

Yours respectfully,

N. Khrushchev
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. Confidential; Limit Distribution. The Russian-language text is ibid. Another copy is in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence.
  2. Document 41.
  3. Document 35.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.