408. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology (Wiesner) to President Kennedy1


  • The US Proposal for a Joint US–USSR Lunar Program

I believe that Premier Khrushchev’s statement of October 26 that the USSR does not plan to land a man on the moon gives us a unique opportunity to follow through on your UN proposal for a joint US–USSR program in a way that will not only be in accord with U.S. objectives for peaceful cooperation if accepted by the USSR, but will also decisively dispel the doubts that have existed in the Congress and the press about the sincerity and feasibility of the proposal itself. Specifically, I would propose a joint program in which the USSR provides unmanned exploratory and logistic support for the U.S. Apollo manned landing. I believe such a program would utilize the combined resources of US and USSR in a technically practical manner and might, in view of Premier Khrushchev’s statement, be politically attractive to him.

The manned lunar program encompasses much more than the manned landing vehicle itself. The PSAC space panels have consistently emphasized the importance of the unmanned lunar exploration program to develop technical information about the lunar surface. This information appears critical to a successful manned landing. The U.S. unmanned program hinges around the Surveyor program which at best is a marginal one. At the present time its estimated payload had dropped to 65 pounds and its schedule is unreliable. The Soviet Union, however, apparently has a substantial capability at this time for this type of exploratory mission. A joint program which would use this capability would be very valuable to us.

More directly involved with the manned landing itself is a vehicle and spacecraft for placing a large stock of supplies and equipment at the site of the manned landing. NASA and the PSAC space panels all agree that the 24–48 hours staytime provided by Apollo does not permit the astronauts to conduct significant scientific exploration. It is agreed that to make Apollo a useful scientific endeavor an additional 7000 [Page 925] pounds of equipment and supplies must be landed at his site to permit him 5 to 7 days of useful scientific exploration before he returns to earth. This logistic support requires another large vehicle and spacecraft to be available on about the same time schedule as Apollo. The U.S. development program to provide this capability has not yet been initiated. If the Soviet Union could be convinced that the logistic support was indeed an essential and integral part of the manned landing and persuaded to provide this support system, the resulting program would again result in an effective use of combined resources. The Apollo program would remain a purely U.S. technical program without modification of present plans. A Russian could easily be included as a member of the landing team without complicating the engineering effort. In addition, the proposal would have the practical value of minimizing requirements for complicated joint engineering projects and launching operations and would emphasize the exchange of plans, information and possibly people.

If we assume that Premier Khrushchev is telling the truth (and I believe that he is), this proposal will give the USSR the opportunity of sharing in the credit for a successful lunar mission without incurring major expenditures much beyond those that they probably plan to undertake as part of their present space program. By not including joint engineering and launching activities, the proposal minimizes the security impact on the USSR that undoubtedly acts as a restraint on joint activities because of the close association of the Soviet space and military missile programs.

It is true that the above proposal assumes that the USSR would be willing to follow the now well established U.S. operational plan for manned lunar exploration. This did not seem reasonable as long as it appeared likely that Russia had a well developed program of her own. Now, however, Premier Khrushchev’s statement, whether it is true or not, makes such a proposal by the United States reasonable from every standpoint. The proposal now not only offers a program which truly enhances the manned lunar exploration effort while leaving the Apollo program intact, but also one which ought to be acceptable to the USSR.

It might be extremely advantageous for you to publicly offer this plan to the USSR as a specific proposal for a joint program, formulated in the light of Premier Khrushchev’s statement and designed to effectively combine the resources of both countries. The effectiveness of the offer would be enhanced if it were made while Khrushchev’s statement is still fresh in the mind of the public. If the proposal is accepted we will have established a practical basis for cooperative program. If it is rejected we will have demonstrated our desire for peaceful cooperation and the sincerity of our original proposal.

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If you believe this proposal has merit, I suggest that you request that NASA prepare as soon as possible a specific plan along these lines for your consideration.2

Jerome B. Wiesner3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Space Activities, General, 10/63–11/63, Box 308. Confidential. In an October 30 covering memorandum to Bundy, Wiesner noted that it might be advantageous for the President to reply as soon as possible, and that it should be possible for NASA to produce an outline of a joint program.
  2. During his news conference of October 31, President Kennedy expressed skepticism about Premier Khrushchev’s claim that the Soviet Union was no longer in a race to the moon. He also said, “I think we ought to stay with our program. I think that is the best answer to Mr. Khrushchev.” See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 832.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.