359. Presentation by the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Webb) to President Kennedy1

Administrator’s Presentation to the President

The U.S. civilian space effort is based on a ten year plan. When prepared in 1959, this ten year plan was designed to go hand in hand with our military programs and permit a steady closing of the gap caused by Russian successes. Prior to this plan, U.S. procrastination for a number of years had been based in part on a very real skepticism by President Eisenhower personally as to the necessity for the large expenditures required, and the validity of the goals sought through the space effort.

In the preparation of the 1962 budget, President Eisenhower reduced the $1.35 billion requested by the Space Agency to the extent of $240 million and specifically eliminated funds to proceed with manned space flight projects beyond Mercury. This decision emasculated the ten year plan, before it was even one year old, and unless reversed guarantees [Page 806] that the Russians will, for the next five to ten years, beat us to every spectacular exploratory flight.

We have already felt the effects of the fact that they were the first to place a satellite in orbit, have intercepted the moon, photographed the back side of the moon, and have sent a large spacecraft to Venus. They can now orbit 7–1/2 ton vehicles about the earth, compared to our 2–1/2 tons, and they have successfully recovered animals from orbital flights lasting as much as 24 hours. Their present position is one from which further substantial accomplishments can be expected, and our best information points to a steadily increasing pace of successful effort, on a realistic timetable.

The budget levels of the previous administration did permit extensive scientific investigation, the application of satellites to meteorological and communication systems, the Mercury man-in-space effort, and the support of these through advanced research and technological development. However, these levels have not been sufficient for the successful conduct of programs calculated to give us any substantial initiative in space exploration.

The first priority of this country’s space effort should be to improve as rapidly as possible our capability for boosting large spacecraft into orbit, since this is our greatest deficiency. The present Russian booster has a 750,000 pound thrust compared with an Atlas thrust of 320,000 pounds. We are developing a cluster of 8 Atlas engines, known as Saturn, which will have a thrust of 1,500,000 pounds. Our request for additional funds to advance its available date one year (to 1966) has not been recommended to you by the Budget Bureau. In addition, we are asking funds to speed up work on the engines for a more advanced vehicle with 8 to 9 million pounds thrust, which we call Nova. Our information shows that the Russians are continuing with booster developments, and we should not put ourselves in the position of having to start such a major project with its long lead time after they are in a position to exploit their possession of such a development. The funds we have requested for an expanded effort will bring the entire Space Agency program up to $1.43 billion in FY 1968 and substantially restore the ten-year program. The future effect of our recommendations will be to increase expenditures to an annual rate of $2.0 billion by 1965 or 1966.

The Department of Defense benefits from the NASA space program just as NASA does from the military space program. NASA research centers are investigating re-entry physics, high temperature structures, and propulsion techniques for both military and civilian needs, to mention only a few major technical areas of common interest and effort. In addition, NASA-developed electronic equipment for telemetry, tracking, [Page 807] data processing, stabilization and guidance will have application to military systems. Most important of all, the boosters now under development and the launching facilities to be constructed will be used directly by the Department of Defense. NASA’s Centaur launch vehicle will be used to place the Defense communications satellite, Advent, in orbit and ultimately it can be expected that NASA’s Saturn will make possible military missions not even foreseen at this time. We feel it is important to proceed aggressively with our program not only for civilian considerations but also to provide improved technological capability for the DOD.

Under the NASA ten-year program, we will need the large boosters we are requesting sooner than the military will need them in order to achieve a number of major space exploration milestones. Among these milestones are unmanned exploration of the moon and planets as well as manned space flight beyond Project Mercury. The Mercury vehicle carries a single man and can remain in orbit for but a few hours. For important biomedical studies, we wish to make modifications that will extend the possible flight time to one day.

To make flights about the earth with multiple crews or trips to the vicinity of the moon, we must develop a new space vehicle and team it up with the Saturn booster. President Eisenhower eliminated from his budget the preliminary design studies required to begin this effort. Unless research and development funds for an advanced design of this type are restored, the important milestone flights will be delayed at least a year.

The United States space program has already become a positive force in bringing together scientists and engineers of many countries in a wide variety of cooperative endeavors. Great Britain, France, Italy, West Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Argentina, all have in one way or another taken action or expressed their will to become a part of this imaginative effort. We feel there is no better means to reinforce our old alliances and build new ones.

The Soviets have demonstrated how effective space exploration can be as a symbol of scientific progress and as an adjunct of foreign policy. Without necessarily following the Soviet lead in this kind of exploitation, we should not fail to recognize its potential. We cannot regain the prestige we have lost without improving our present inferior booster capability, and doing it before the Russians make a major break through into the multi-million pound thrust range.

Looking to the future, it is possible through new technology to bring about whole new areas of international cooperation in meteorological and communication satellite systems. These new systems will be superior to present systems by a large margin and so clearly [Page 808] in the interest of the entire world that there is a possibility all will want to cooperate-even the USSR. However, the extent to which we are leaders in space science and technology will in some large measure determine the extent to which we, as a nation, pioneering on a new frontier, will be in position to develop this emerging world force as a basis for new concepts and applications in education, communication and transportation, looking toward more viable political, social and economic systems for nations willing to work with us in the years ahead.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, NASA, 1961, Box 282. No classification marking. According to President Kennedy’s Appointment Books, Webb attended a meeting with the President between 6:10 and 7:20 p.m. on March 22. Vice President Johnson, Deputy Administrator Hugh Dryden, David Bell, and McGeorge Bundy also attended the meeting. (Ibid.)