578. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of International Scientific Affairs (Rollefson) to the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Williams)1


  • Space Tracking Activities in the Area of Southern Africa

I. Problem

To assess (1) the need for ground facilities in the area of Southern Africa for support of the U.S. space program through 1970 and (2) the steps which should be taken to meet that need.

II. Introduction

1. Given the present state of the art and our launching sites in Florida and California, the area of Southern Africa is the most critical single area abroad for the U.S. space program. Almost all of our major space programs are supported at critical phases by ground stations located in that area. At the present time these include four stations in the Republic of South Africa and one on Madagascar. In addition NASA requires one new tracking station in the area, and other increments may be necessary before 1970. All these stations should be land-based, but three of them could be ship-borne with substantial degradation of their reliability and mission performance. These facilities are requisite to long-range missile testing, earth orbiting unmanned satellites, lunar and planetary probes and—in the Apollo program—to both earth orbiting and lunar manned flights. The Department should be fully aware of the continuing need for these stations; of the requirement to explore new and alternate sites, if needed to assure uninterrupted operation; and of the necessity to advise DOD and NASA promptly, if relocation appears necessary.

III. Conclusion

2. This office has concluded that the continued use and extension of ground facilities (tracking, data acquisition and command stations) under [Page 972]U.S. control in the area of Southern Africa over the next five years is a critical requirement, if the United States is to carry through the space program to which it is committed within this decade. Although technical and programmatic options in our space program are such that this requirement is not absolute, there is no satisfactory alternative. Failure to meet this requirement will be costly in time and money. More important, it will jeopardize the success of key space missions and may, in the long run, damage the image of U.S. technological and scientific achievement which we seek to foster abroad through a successful space program.

3. Within the general area of Southern Africa only the Republic of South Africa offers a location common to all these requirements wherein satisfactory logistic support, communications and local technical cooperation are available. The several minimum technical requirements of our program could be met by relocation of these facilities in southeastern Bechuanaland or separately among a variety of other locations, but only at substantial cost and under circumstances which would reduce seriously the practical probability of successful operation.

4. We recognize that the prospects of retaining these facilities, or relocating them within nearby areas which are technically acceptable, are far from assured. We realize also that the need to do so may limit severely our freedom of action in dealing with other critical problems created by the circumstances in that area. Nonetheless we feel that the Department must take all reasonable steps to meet these requirements.

IV. Recommendations

5. It is recommended that, as a matter of urgency, the Department

Assess the possibility of continued use and extension of the ground facilities in the Republic of South Africa for support of the missile-testing and space programs of DOD and NASA or, alternatively, their relocation in nearby areas which are technically acceptable;
Frame a program of political actions to meet this need;
Inform NASA and DOD (through SCI and G/PM respectively) no later than April 15, if possible, of the Department’s assessment and of the steps which DOD and NASA should take in consonance with the course of action to be taken by the Department; and
Inform the White House and interested committees of the Congress of our assessment and proposed course of action.

[Here follows Section V.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, SP 15 S AFR–US. Secret. Drafted by C. Edward Dillery of SCI on March 6. Copies were sent to Kitchen, Rostow in S/P, and Cleveland. A March 9 covering memorandum from Rollefson to Williams states that the attached was a revision of his February 18 memorandum on the same subject. (Ibid.) He noted that NASA had undertaken a further intensive review of its requirements and had been able to modify them. It now appeared possible that the requirement to provide tracking coverage for the monitoring of Project Apollo orbits could be met in part through the use of airborne and shipborne equipment. In addition, negotiations had been completed for the location of a second NASA deep space instrumentation facility in Spain.