22. Letter From the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Webb) to President Johnson1

Dear Mr. President:

The attached report2 on possible projects for substantive cooperation with the Soviet Union in the field of outer space is provided to you in accordance with National Security Action Memorandum 271, dated November 12, 1963, and my interim report to you of December 13, 1963.3 It has been coordinated with the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Executive Secretary of the Space Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Science Adviser, and White House staff.

Since space technology is closely related to and in some measure interchangeable with technology of military interest, careful examination of the attached report is desirable in connection with further initiative in this field.

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An appendix to the report reviews the status of agreements already reached between NASA and the Soviet Academy of Sciences for cooperation in three areas: (1) coordinated meteorological satellite program; (2) passive communications satellite experiments with the ECHO II satellite launched this month; and (3) geomagnetic satellite data exchange. The appendix also reviews Soviet rejection of numerous specific offers of space cooperation made in the past by the US. At this writing, the Soviet Academy, while in communication with NASA in regard to the agreements between us, has failed to meet time limits on most agreed action items but has conducted optical observations of the ECHO II satellite as agreed and apparently intends to proceed with communications experiments between the USSR and the Jodrell Bank Observatory. Other tests of Soviet intentions under these agreements will materialize shortly.
The report focuses upon possible cooperation in manned and related unmanned lunar programs. (Possibilities for cooperation in other space programs have been and will continue to be advanced in the channel between NASA and the Soviet Academy.)
The report recommends these guidelines to govern foreseeable negotiations with the Soviet Union in the space field: substantive rather than propaganda objectives alone; well-defined and comparable obligations for both sides; freedom to take independent action; protection of national and military security interests; opportunity for participation by friendly nations; and open dissemination of scientific results.
The report recognizes that cooperation with the Soviet Union must ultimately rest on specific projects. However, the advantages and disadvantages of specific proposals are not absolute. They may vary significantly, depending upon Soviet objectives, techniques, procedures, and schedules relative to ours. Lacking sufficient information of these factors, we remain uncertain of the security and tactical aspects of specific proposals which might be advanced to the Soviets.

Accordingly, the report outlines a preferred structured approach calculated to determine a level of confidence in any Soviet response, to gain information on basic elements of the Soviet program, and to merit confidence and support by the public and the Congress.

Briefly, this approach provides for maximum exchange of past results (generally subject to verification from other US sources), proceeds then to sufficient disclosure of the future planning of both sides to identify areas favorable for cooperation, and concludes with the joint definition of specific projects. Examples of specific projects would be put forward in the initial presentation of this approach to lend credibility and substance to it.


The report recognizes that the Soviet Union is unlikely to be amenable to such an approach. In that case, it would be possible to proceed directly to specific proposals. Some 15 examples of possible projects are described in the report and evaluated in such terms as our current knowledge of the Soviet program permits.

However, limitations (described in the report) attach to virtually all these proposals. These limitations reflect the general climate of US-Soviet relations and are therefore subject to change—which might bring any of the proposals within the range of realistic negotiation. At present, a change in sentiment appears necessary even for small steps in cooperation; for example, in the exchange of purely scientific data relating to solar radiation and micrometeorites, the Soviet Union has within the past year declined to provide details of instrumentation and calibration required for their understanding. Given a change in sentiment, however, such exchanges would be useful and some cooperation might be proposed and developed in several areas including those listed below and, in addition, mutual tracking support and the recovery and return of manned capsules after their return to earth.

On balance, the most realistic and constructive group of proposals which might be advanced to the Soviet Union, with due regard for the uncertainties and limitations discussed above and detailed in the report, relates to a joint program of unmanned flight projects to support a manned lunar landing. These projects should be linked so far as possible to a step-by-step approach, ranging from exchange of data already obtained to joint planning of future flight missions. They include projects for the determination of:
Micrometeoroid density in space between earth and moon.
The radiation and energetic particle environment between earth and moon.
The character of the lunar surface.
The selection of lunar landing sites.
I believe this affords flexibility for positive action, utilizing either a variant of the structured approach (paragraph 5) or, with necessarily greater caution, selected specific proposals without reference to the structured approach (paragraph 7).
With regard to the timing and form of further US initiatives toward the Soviet Union, the report recommends the following:
Continuing interest should be expressed through the existing NASA-Soviet Academy channel, in a positive Soviet response to the proposals for cooperation already made by President Kennedy and by you.
No new high-level US initiative is recommended until the Soviet Union has had a further opportunity (possibly three months) [Page 49] to discharge its current obligations under the existing NASA-USSR Academy agreement, or, in the alternative, until the Soviets respond affirmatively to the proposal you have already made in the UN.
If Soviet performance under the existing agreement is unsatisfactory, a high-level initiative on a non-public basis would seem desirable to prod the Soviet Union to better performance; additional public steps might be considered if this proves unavailing.
If Soviet performance under the existing agreement proves satisfactory, personal initiative by you would still be required to extend this success to cooperation in manned lunar programs. Because the scope of initiative by Soviet Academy representatives seems limited, Mr. Khrushchev’s personal interest and support would also seem to be required for any significant extension of joint activity. It is believed that your initiative will be more effective if taken privately in the first instance.
A US initiative should establish our interest in the preferred structured approach described above. If it then becomes feasible to proceed with technical negotiations, the NASA-Soviet Academy channel should continue to be the vehicle used; as in the past, technical proposals to be considered in such negotiations should be made available for prior interdepartmental comment. (It may become appropriate to consider an effort to induce the Soviet Union to make personnel available who are closer to their technical program.)
Agreements reached in technical negotiations should be embodied in memoranda of understanding, explicitly subject to review and confirmation by governments.
To demonstrate the serious intentions of the US with regard to international cooperation in space and to maintain some pressure upon the Soviet Union to follow suit, we should continue to expand our current and successful joint projects with other nations to the degree possible.

This report will be kept under continuing review in NASA in concert with other interested offices and agencies, and we shall keep you advised of our progress with the Soviet Academy under the current agreement between us. I believe we are well prepared to support whatever initiative you determine to be appropriate in light of this report and stand ready to provide such additional information and judgment as you may require.

Respectfully yours,

James E. Webb
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Charles E. Johnson Files, Cooperation in Space, US–USSR #2, Box 14. Confidential.
  2. Not attached. A copy is ibid.
  3. The interim report has not been found.