358. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Outer Space


  • Mr. James Webb, NASA
  • Dr. Hugh Dryden, NASA
  • The Secretary
  • Mr. W. Wallner, IO
  • Mr. W.I. Cargo, UNP
  • Dr. W. Whitman, S/SA
  • Mr. P.J. Farley, S/AE

The Secretary said that there was keen interest in the possibility of a productive approach to the Soviet Union for outer space cooperation. The question arose whether the United Nations was the place for this or whether it should be done bilaterally. Mr. Webb said that he had been examining our outer space goals and objectives intensively. We have a big program on the order of $1 billion a year. The implications are tremendous, not only scientifically, but also militarily and commercially. In the communications field particularly we have a major new technology which gives great opportunities for international action if we wish to use it creatively. He thought that decision on approaches to the Soviets was incidental to deciding what we want to do in the space field.

The Secretary observed that there are really only a few countries which are “producers” in the space field and that most of the others are “consumers”. The United Nations might be a good place in which to handle exchange of information between the producer and consumer countries, rather than the place to arrange cooperation between the producers. Dr. Dryden reviewed briefly the course of consideration of a U.N. Outer Space Scientific Conference and establishment of a U.N. Outer Space Committee. He said that it was important to NASA to have a decision as to whether or not there would be a United Nations Conference. He remarked that, outside the United Nations, he saw Blagonravov perhaps twice a year and talked about possibilities for scientific cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union in outer space. Blagonravov was always interested but nothing ever seemed to happen.

[Page 803]

The Secretary said that perhaps we had held up action in the United Nations unnecessarily. Mr. Farley said that the United Nations activity ought to go ahead and referred to the telegram just received from Ambassador Stevenson.2 He pointed out that the terms of reference of the U.N. Committee are carefully drafted and that we will retain freedom of action to approach the Soviet Union in whatever way we decide to after current studies have been considered. In response to the Secretary’s question, he said that Dr. Rossi had completed the report of the outer space task force on the previous day and it would be distributed shortly for review by the agencies concerned and agreement on recommendations for the President.3 Dr. Dryden said that he understood that this outer space task force report might not be considered until broader studies by Dr. Wiesner regarding scientific relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were completed. Mr. Farly said that, while decisions might not be taken until the whole group of scientific studies were in hand, he thought that staff work on outer space could and should begin immediately. Dr. Whitman endorsed the idea of convening the U.N. Outer Space Scientific Conference as soon as possible, citing the usefulness of the two U.N. Atoms for Peace Conferences.4 He urged also that an effort be made to give scientists as free a hand as possible in working out arrangements. Mr. Wallner said that we hoped it would now be possible to get organizational details agreed with the Soviet Union but warned that the Soviet approach was highly political and one could not realistically expect a purely scientific exercise.

Mr. Webb spoke further of the opportunities for foreign relations inherent in the space program and particularly communications and meteorology. He said that he was re-examining in particular the role of NASA in the immediate future in developing space communications techniques and systems. He felt that the implications of space communications were so great and the stake of the Government in development costs to date so considerable that the Government ought to take the lead in developing and testing space communications systems, leaving aside for the time being the question of the ultimate mode of operation. Such an active Government role would provide greater opportunities for using this new tool internationally. He mentioned also that a preliminary review had indicated the desirability of further acceleration and funding of the NASA program by a substantial amount and asked [Page 804] what the attitude of the State Department would be toward such an increase. The Secretary said that he wondered what the purpose was of activities in space on this major scale. Should not the objectives be clearly identified and undertaken not competitively but on behalf of the human race as a whole. With our many skills and forms of power, the human race in its pride is rapidly approaching a point where we may destroy ourselves. This was peculiarly an area where we might be able to stand aside and take a different and more rational approach to whatever was most worth doing in space. Mr. Webb endorsed the idea that we should look urgently at our objectives and, if necessary, re-define them. At present the spirit which he found was primarily one of exploring all possibilities for development of a new technology. The Secretary said that the State Department ought to be addressing itself to all aspects of these problems. He asked Mr. Farley to work with the Policy Planning Council and other interested parts of the Department in identifying the questions which ought to be considered and recommending answers. Mr. Farley said that this was essential in developing recommendations on the basis of the Rossi task force report. We could not sensibly address ourselves to cooperation with the Soviet Union and other countries unless we had defined our own objectives and programs. A good deal of preliminary thinking was already underway in the Department in the communications, legal and other policy aspects of outer space and could be drawn on in formulating the recommendations requested by the Secretary. Mr. Webb said that he was going to look particularly to Dr. Dryden in this area.

Dr. Dryden then reviewed some of the cooperative activities which NASA has had under way in the past in COSPAR, with the British and Canadians, and more recently with other European countries. He emphasized that there was much which the United States could do with free countries aside from what could be done with the Soviet Union or in the United Nations, and pointed out that NASA had a statutory charge to engage in international cooperation. The Secretary asked whether we had the kind of restrictions on international cooperation in this area that we did in the atomic energy field. Dr. Dryden said that the principal limitation was the classification of some of our large boosters which had missile application. Mr. Farley said we did not have the restrictions and procedural requirements in outer space that were laid down by the Atomic Energy Act for atomic energy cooperation. Referring to Dr. Dryden’s summary of present cooperation, he called attention to the recent emergence of European interest in an integrated space research organization. He said that the Department with the concurrence of NASA was actively encouraging this development. It was politically advantageous as a form of European cooperation cutting across the Community of Six and the Outer Seven. It also made sense [Page 805] in view of the cost and complexity of space research. Furthermore, the United States did not want to encourage individual national space programs on a competitive basis primarily for prestige considerations, and we did not want to start a rush among individual countries to enter into bilateral cooperation with the United States regardless of practical importance. Dr. Dryden said that NASA was of course glad to cooperate with such a multilateral venture.

The Secretary said that it was important that we think out what we are doing in this field. He asked that action be taken in the meanwhile to resume efforts in New York to activate the U.N. Committee, since that would be desirable in any event and would not prejudice decisions on other matters.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files l960–63, 701.022/3–861. Confidential. Drafted by Philip J. Farley and approved in S on March 17.
  2. Not found.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. The First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy was held in Geneva August 8–21, 1955. The second Conference was also held in Geneva September 1–14, 1958.