616. Memorandum From the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Webb) to Secretary of State Rusk1

Dear Dean:

I share your concern over the grave questions of U.S. policy in South Africa, and regret that the importance of our tracking and data acquisition facilities there imposes certain restraints.

Specifically, if the South African facilities are denied to us before the alternative contingency facilities in Spain are available, we will, at the time this is definitely known, have to establish methods by which we can reschedule and thereby delay some of the planned Surveyor soft lander missions and/or some of the Orbiter mapping missions. This would be unavoidable because the single existing Madrid facility can support only one mission at a time. Our schedule during the last nine months of 1966 calls for simultaneous flights of Surveyor and Orbiter missions, but it is not possible to assure, for any substantial period in advance, which flight will be ready or which should have priority. Our problem will become one of pressing forward with each project and deciding at the latest date possible the one to launch.

The information about the moon that these unmanned missions will provide is urgently needed to provide an adequate basis for making some of the most critical decisions relating to the execution of the Apollo manned lunar effort; delay in its acquisition will erode the already thin margins we have been able to retain for the program to land upon the moon within the decade.

In addition, the U.S.S.R. has already launched four spacecraft in a vigorous effort to achieve a successful unmanned lunar soft landing. Further delays in the Surveyor schedules would strongly reinforce their chances of being the first to accomplish this important mission, which would attract a great deal of attention.

Thus the delay would affect two important objectives.

The loss of the South African facilities would place us in the position of complete dependence upon the long-term availability of facilities in Spain to support our future missions for manned exploration of the moon.

We have already taken strong action to accelerate the timetable for the additional Madrid facility. We do not yet have access to the land but [Page 1047] have assurances this can be obtained by the end of this month. If this materializes, the second Madrid station could possibly be operational as early as February 1967. We can identify no steps that would significantly shorten the construction and checkout schedule.

This situation argues for every effort to retain the South African facilities, at least through early 1967. If overriding policy considerations require actions that lead to the loss of these facilities, the risks involved in meeting the Apollo objective of a landing in this decade substantially increase and throw us one step nearer the possibility we may have to attempt a landing with men before we can get surface data from an unmanned vehicle. Further, we may well have to absorb the negative impact of a Soviet first in the unmanned soft landing area.

With high regards, I remain

Sincerely yours,

James E. Webb 2
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Hamilton Files, South Africa. Secret.
  2. Printed from a copy that indicates Webb signed the original.