385. Memorandum From the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Webb) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson) and the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1

As you know, the last Project Mercury flight is behind us, and we may have upwards of a year before our next manned flight which will occur in the Gemini program. In the interval, we will be conducting unmanned Gemini flights and frequent scientific and vehicle development flights. At the same time, we are conscious that there is overseas a great reservoir of good will toward our astronauts. Putting these two considerations together, there may be advantages in the near future to sending a small team of NASA astronauts, scientists, and technicians abroad to convey directly and by personal appearances to other nations the character and results of the U.S. manned flight program and to afford our friends overseas an opportunity for the expression of their good will.

The format which suggests itself to us for such a team effort is quite different from the parade and publicity type tours of the Soviet cosmonauts and would be designed to emphasize the seriousness, openness, and carefully balanced character of U.S. space activities. We have in mind the following approach: We would establish some reasonable but limited objective for a single visit abroad, such as interest in inspecting the San Marco platform now being prepared by Italy for launching of an equatorial satellite. We would then contact appropriate European agencies with which we regularly deal to apprise them of the possibility of [Page 878] such a visit and of the availability of the visiting team for one or more de-briefings on the manned flight program and its place in our total space effort. These first contacts would seek to arrange for proper forums under appropriate sponsorship in each area where a stopover might be made (e.g., Madrid, Rome, Paris). The central element of each stopover would be a responsible professional report, followed by extensive questions and answers. Undoubtedly, there would be occasion for public appearances of a more visible character by the astronauts in conjunction with each stopover, and we would endeavor to accommodate a reasonable number.

The details can be arranged following a judgment that an initial trip is indeed desirable, but it may help to provide a few illustrations to facilitate consideration of the matter. The team would involve one or two astronauts and a supporting group of perhaps half-a-dozen persons, including an engineer, aeromedic and scientist, as well as support personnel. (Colonel Glenn would be available and is anxious to contribute to an effort of this kind.) Three to five days could be devoted to each country, with travel by commercial or special aircraft, with a total cost of $15–25,000 per country. For reasons which are indicated below, the timing would be as soon after the first of the coming year as feasible.

In the interests of a balanced final judgment, I would point out that we do not have new material in the area of manned space flight beyond what has already been published or reported in this country and that, as here, there are elements of the scientific community abroad with only limited interest and sympathy for manned space flight. And we always run the risk of a Soviet space spectacular occurring between the planning and execution of a trip such as this. However, bringing the Mercury story graphically into foreign countries, with questions and answers in depth, may be counted upon to attract wide interest, to discharge our obligations to share data, and to help educate the foreign scientific community in the values of manned space flight. A short trip would reduce the hazard of coincidence with a major Soviet spectacular.

I would appreciate your comments on the prospect suggested here. If positive, we will proceed to provide a detailed prospectus and develop, discreetly, the necessary interest and preparations abroad. In this connection, the assistance of the Science Attaches abroad would be most helpful.

James E. Webb
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1960–63, SP 10 US/MERCURY. Confidential. A copy was sent to USIA Director Edward R. Murrow.