367. Summary Minutes of the Meeting of the National Aeronautics and Space Council1

This meeting of the National Aeronautics and Space Council was convened by the Chairman (Vice President Johnson) at 4:00 p.m. August 18, 1961 in Room 274 of the Executive Office Building. In addition to the Vice President, the principals attending the meeting were: the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Executive Secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council.

Those who participated in the briefing were: Colonel Earl McFarland, Jr., representing the Intelligence Community; Dr. Harold Brown, representing the Department of Defense; Dr. Hugh L. Dryden, representing NASA.

Others present at the meeting were: Mr. Howard Furnas, Department of State; [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Central Intelligence Agency; Dr. Lawrence Kavanau, Department of Defense.

The Chairman opened this meeting of the Council with reference to some of the major actions which had been taken through the Space Council mechanism. He referred to the coordination of the new space program, which the President had sent to the Congress on May 25; the policy recommendations on communication satellites which the President had announced on July 24; and the development of the Government position on the West Ford project, which the President had approved on August 11. He then stated that, in addition to developing policy recommendations, he planned to have the Council meet from time to time to discuss some major aspect of the space program. He illustrated this point by reference to such topics as the lunar project, potentialities of nuclear power in space, the space position of the United States before the United Nations, and problems of management and interagency coordination in space matters.

The Chairman then announced that the purpose of this meeting was to examine this country’s space position vis-a-vis that of the USSR.

The first portion of the briefing was devoted to intelligence information regarding the Soviet space program. It was pointed out that most of the hard evidence regarding their program was derived from [Page 826] knowledge of their actual accomplishments, while evidence regarding specific future shots and timing, as well as regarding their military space plans, was “soft.” It was emphasized, however, that there was no question that since 1955, the Soviets had established a firm objective of manned interplanetary travel.

A chart was displayed to point out graphically the number of Soviet launchings and the approximate size of the payloads in each successful shot. It was noted that through mid-1960 all of the shots, including the ICBM tests, had been made from the same launching site. (This should not be interpreted to mean that the Soviets do not have a number of operational ICBM launching pads at various locations.) The figures displayed indicated 46 successful space orbits by the U.S. and 14 by the USSR. The approximate total payload weights were 55,000 pounds for the U.S., and 110,000 pounds for the USSR. At this point, it was stated that the individual shot capability was deemed more important than the number of successful shots.

Attention was directed to the following about the Soviet program: the steady rate of increase in payload weight from about 185 pounds in Sputnik I to about 14,000 pounds in Sputnik VII; estimated that by 1962 they might orbit 25,000 pounds, and by 1965 from 50 to 100 tons; they have used essentially the same booster thrust, with some question as to Sputnik I and II, and have used military vehicles for the larger vertical firings.

As for the military aspects of the USSR space program, it was pointed out that there was little evidence of their immediate intent to use space for military purposes, although there was always the capability with their large boosters. In this regard, it was suggested that there was less USSR need for many of the types of military space projects such as the ones we are developing. Hence, it appeared that they had done little in space for reconnaissance, early warning, communications, meteorology, or navigation. (These are all projects in which the United States has shown progress, and in some cases operational accomplishment.)

One view was expressed that the U.S. was ahead in space programs except for boosters. However, others pointed out that they were at least equal to us on guidance capabilities and had possibly done more in their bio-medical program. It was further added that we should not overlook their demonstration of manned multi-orbit flight and recovery.

Some of the broad features of the USSR space program are that they focus on few objectives; they aim toward actions which will build world prestige and give indications of strength; they have integrated their ICBM development and their space program, in a single disciplined management chain; they have been particularly adroit in obtaining propaganda value on their space activities, in building a world image of military strength and technical competence; and ability to orbit large payloads, giving [Page 827] implication of growing capability toward using man in space for maintenance of space vehicles, for intercepting satellites of other nations, and in possibly demonstrating bombardment competence. (In regard to this latter, it was pointed out that this would be more of a threat than an efficient method for bombing.)

The comparison of U.S. and USSR space programs also brought out the following points regarding space science: (a) the Soviets failed to capitalize on their early fast start, particularly Sputnik III. This was contrasted to their outstanding achievements in technology as represented by their Luniks and the manned flights. (b) The average quality of scientific research is about the same in both countries, although nearly all of the highly original work has come from the United States. (c) The U.S. has led in the publication of scientific papers by a ratio of about 6 to 1, although there is some indication that the USSR plans to release more of its scientific data. (d) The openness and international cooperativeness features of our program have been difficult for the Soviets to counter. This may cause them to be more generous in the public exposure of their work, although there is little evidence that they are withholding much substantive scientific information. (e) Their ability to launch large payloads enables them to perform more comprehensive planetary probe experiments than the U.S., and they will have advantage in this regard until we have larger boosters in operation. (f) They have done some research in hydrogen technology but are probably not as far advanced as the U.S. (g) There is limited evidence that they are engaged in atomic power technology for interplanetary payloads. Their earliest test flight is not expected before 1970.

The United States is expected to run behind the USSR in manned earth orbital flights for some time, because of our limited launch vehicle capability. How long this U.S. disadvantage will continue depends on the relative rates of the U.S.-USSR big launch vehicle programs. It is estimated, however, that we will have a successful manned round trip to the moon in the 1967–68 period, while intelligence data for a Soviet accomplishment of this nature is about 1970. The latter estimate, however, cannot be considered firm. It is believed, however, that the Lunar program is the point at which the U.S. has reason to hope to overtake the USSR.

In a more detailed exposition on the U.S. space accomplishments, the following points were made: (a) We have definite military requirements, and have made substantial progress in the reconnaissance, communications, early warning, navigation, weather, and rendezvous and inspection areas.

[1 line of source text not declassified] (It was pointed out that some space programs such as those in weather and communications, were also being developed outside the Department of Defense, but would also have value to the military.) (b) As for our large boosters, the Saturn first stage will be flight-tested this year, with a 3-stage C–1 in 1963; the F–1 will [Page 828] be qualified for flight in 1964; and the C–3 or the C–4 flight test will take place in 1965. (c) For military purposes, as for non-military purposes, larger payloads are always important, but for certain types of projects the rate of increase is of decreasing importance.

It was pointed out that there is a probable role for military men in space as well as for men in space for scientific and other purposes. The advantage of having men in a space vehicle is the opportunity to use judgment and to adapt to unprogrammed or unexpected conditions. To some extent this advantage is offset by the increased vulnerability of man and the substantial weight and additional equipment which needs to be given over to the problem of survivability. However, many of the problems of vulnerability also exist as regards advancing electronic systems or films in space vehicles. Reference was made to the Dina Soar as a manned military space project. It was pointed out that this needs to be given further careful examination, to ascertain the military reasons for the space flight reentry capability. Further on the military space side, it was pointed out that there is need of a capability to maintain complex electrical equipment of at least 5000 pounds in space for extended periods of time. Little value was given to the use of space vehicles for bombardment purposes. On this aspect of military use of space, some question was raised as to whether there was significant military importance to this competence and as to whether very large payloads in space were needed for defense. It was emphasized, however, that the R & D program should be maintained to make certain that we had the competence to meet all military space requirements. At this time, there is only one manned Lunar flight program, and that is under NASA management.

Brief reference was made to the relative percentages of the respective GNP’s which are being devoted to space by the U.S. and the USSR. It was stated that the U.S. will be spending about .6 of 1% of its GNP in FY 1962 while the Soviets were undoubtedly spending “very much less.” This latter was explained on the basis of their smaller number of shots, lesser variety of projects, highly integrated management structure, and economy on the number and use of launching facilities. [Note: The .6 of 1% reference was undoubtedly to new obligational authority, not spending, and was probably a little high even so. The GNP for FY 1962 should be close to $520 billion; the NOA for space is about $2.9 billion; and the expenditure estimate is about $2.4 billion. Hence, the percentages would approximate .56% (NOA) and .46% (exp.)]2

In the questions and discussion by the principals at the briefing, the following points were made: (a) Warning against spreading our resources too thinly and thereby creating inefficiency in the overall [Page 829] space program; (b) Statement of the Defense Department position to have the military concentrate on those projects of defense significance and not to have them duplicate or overlap with NASA; (c) Question of the adequacy as well as the fragmentation of our life sciences effort; (d) Coordination between NASA and DOD is excellent, with every intention to keep it that way; (e) Announcement that NASA is working actively to gear its organization to the new and accelerated space program; (f) Reaction of officials of other nations as to whether the U.S. should be spending upwards of $40 billion on a Lunar space effort was that the U.S. just had no choice but to spend the resources and try to win the race; (g) Substantial impetus given to the U.S. space efforts by the basic policy decisions made by the President and the increased funds approved by the Congress.

E.C. Welsh3
Executive Secretary
  1. Source: Johnson Library, Vice President’s Science File, National Aeronautics and Space Council. Top Secret. Edward C. Welsh, Executive Secretary of the Council, kept the minutes.
  2. Brackets in the source text.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.