404. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Luncheon with Academician Blagonravov in New York, September 11, 1963

The objective of the luncheon was to discuss with Academician Blagonravov the plans and progress within the Soviet Academy of Sciences for implementation of the agreement recently signed for cooperation in meteorological satellites, passive communications experiments, and magnetic field survey. Those present at the luncheon were Academician A. Blagonravov, Mr. G.S. Stashevsky, Dr. Hugh L. Dryden and Mr. Arnold Frutkin from NASA, and Peter Thatcher from the U.S. United Nations Mission in New York.

I first asked how things were going with regard to the implementation of the agreement. Blagonravov replied that he was having some difficulty with the Soviet Ministry of Communications, who had been so busily occupied with the “hot line” between the Kremlin and the White House that they had not yet undertaken to deal with the problems of the communication link for exchange of cloud pictures as provided in our negotiations. My letter of August 23rd,2 which outlined the next steps as we foresaw them and gave names of NASA representatives who were prepared to proceed with the discussions and detailed planning in specific areas, had not yet been received, since Blagonravov left Moscow early in September. I gave Blagonravov a copy of my letter of August 23rd, and he read it without detailed comment except to again refer to his problems with the Ministry of Communications. I requested him to move as rapidly as procedures within the Academy permitted and said that we were prepared to move as fast as he could.

I then congratulated him on his appointment as Chairman of the Commission on the Exploration and Utilization of Outer Space, as successor to Federov, who has become Chief of the Hydro Meteorological Service.

I then asked Blagonravov whether he was present at the Lovell discussion, and he replied “no, that he couldn’t be there.”

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We then discussed the problems of the manned lunar program as outlined in the Lovell letter,3 which had to be solved in advance of the lunar landing. These included the radiation and other problems. Blagonravov stated that these were problems which had to be solved as a basis for the manned program. Although there was some intimation in the way in which this was said that he might be thinking of solving these problems first before proceeding with the manned lunar project, I do not think that concurrent action was excluded by the language used. He mentioned specifically that rocket power was not a problem, but in the context of this exchange and others which occurred later I interpret this to mean that there are no unknown problems in rocket technology similar to the radiation and weightlessness problems in outer space. We shall return to this subject later.

We then referred to Lovell’s account of the Keldysh discussion of “why go to the moon” which was said to be occurring within the Soviet Academy of Sciences. It is my impression from the brief discussion that there are factions within the Soviet Academy who have been discussing the reasons for and against going to the moon. Especially there are scientists in the Soviet Union, as in the U.S., who wish a greater emphasis on science. At one point Blagonravov raised his chin and stated that he personally was the champion of the manned lunar program. As the translator spoke the word “champion,” Blagonravov became slightly uneasy and said that perhaps he had not chosen his words very well, that he was a “supporter” of the manned lunar program. I gained the impression that there is a temporary hold in the manned lunar program pending the attainment of soft landing of instruments on the moon. Blagonravov stated that “Lovell’s statement (i.e., that there was a temporary hold in the lunar program) might be true as of today.”

I advanced the view that it was not necessary to use Lovell as a channel to convey Soviet desires to the U.S., and Blagonravov seemed to agree with this observation. He went so far as to state that it might be advisable for the Blagonravov/Dryden groups to have discussions later of the possibility of cooperation in manned lunar exploration after [Page 917]instrumented landings on the moon had been made. This is a real change from previous discussions in which he had taken the point of view that there was no use in discussing cooperation in this area because of the political climate.

I offered to answer questions with regard to our own program. He seemed to know the names of most of the projects and was particularly interested in Ranger.

We then turned to the subject of the cooperative program on meteorological satellites, and I asked whether the date of mid-1964 would be met for the exchange of pictures. Blagonravov said that he still hoped to meet the mid-64 date, although there were problems. He did not say whether these were technical or political. He did say that “industry” was not greatly interested in meteorological satellites. By industry I assumed he meant those persons who were interested in the exploitation of power development, consumer goods, et cetera, as contrasted with space.

With respect to the lunar landing, he pointed out again that rocket thrust was not a problem, that capsules have to be designed and built. He made the statement that he was satisfied that with Saturn V we could go to the moon. I made every attempt to find out whether he felt that the present Soviet booster capacity would enable lunar missions. He did not say that it would or would not, but he again repeated the phrase that present rocket technology would permit going to the moon.

Finally, he supported the suggestion in Lovell’s letter, attributed to Keldysh, that there be an international discussion of the desirability of going to the moon. (We have elsewhere noted the disadvantages of such discussions from our own point of view.)

In summary, I believe that the Russians as well as we are having discussions on the value of manned lunar landing. I think it would be very dangerous to interpret what was said by Blagonravov at this luncheon as indicating that the Russians in fact had no lunar program but were just now discussing the possibility of beginning one. I do not believe that the manned lunar program is under the direction or control of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Quite to the contrary, I am convinced that it is a program originated and operated by the military. Therefore we must be very cautious in interpreting statements which come only from the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Hugh L. Dryden4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1960–63, SP 10 US/MOON. Confidential. Dryden forwarded the memorandum under cover of a memorandum of the same date to U. Alexis Johnson, with copies to McGeorge Bundy and the Director of the President’s Office of Science and Technology. Assistant Secretary Cleveland forwarded the memorandum and attached correspondence under cover of a September 30 memorandum to Under Secretary Ball.
  2. Document 402.
  3. On July 23 Sir Bernard Lovell, Director of the Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory in England, sent a letter to Dryden describing a visit that he had made to Soviet observatories between June 25 and July 15, as a guest of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Soviet scientists had told Lovell that while they wanted to establish a manned orbiting observatory, they did not believe that a manned flight to the moon would be practicable in the near future. They also said that international cooperation would help determine how the technical problems might be overcome and what scientific tasks would require a human presence on the moon. Dryden was on vacation when Lovell’s letter arrived, so NASA Administrator Webb responded on his behalf in an August 6 letter. Webb suggested to Lovell that Dryden and Blagonravov might explore these matters within the context of the agreement between NASA and the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Both letters are attached to this memorandum.
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates Dryden signed the original.