29. Letter From the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Webb) to President Johnson 1

Dear Mr. President:

This letter is to review developments in our bilateral cooperation with the Soviet Union in outer space matters since my letter to you of June 29, 1964.2 That letter, prepared in compliance with National Security Action Memorandum No. 285, reported the negotiation of a Second Memorandum of Understanding and a Protocol (June 6, 1964)3 providing [Page 64] for (1) further implementation of the existing bilateral Agreement, particularly with regard to the establishment and use of a communications link for exchange of weather data, and (2) new cooperation in the preparation and publication of a major review of space biology and medicine in the US and USSR. In addition, the letter reviewed Soviet performance and attitudes and, conditional on Soviet demonstration of a desire to fulfill existing commitments, recommended that the United States adopt as positive an approach toward the next confrontation between Dr. Dryden and Academician Blagonravov as national program requirements would permit.

The Second Memorandum of Understanding, agreed at Geneva on June 6, was to go into effect if neither side took exception to its provisions by July 6. We had no substantive changes to suggest but did request the correction of some editorial discrepancies between the English and Russian texts. Academician Blagonravov wrote that the Soviets could not accept certain provisions of the Memorandum relating to the joint review of space biology and medicine. These were the provisions for parallel chapters by Soviet and American authors, each reviewing the work done in his own country. Instead, the Soviet side reverted to its initial position at Geneva that either Soviet or American authors undertake to review the work of both sides on various subjects. Dr. Dryden proposed continued discussion of the space biology and medicine project in New York during the October meetings of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space4 Blagonravov accepted this suggestion.

Although he agreed readily to continued discussion, Blagonravov failed to confirm acceptance of the editorial changes necessary to establish the status of the remaining sections of the Second Memorandum. We insisted that such confirmation was necessary before the United States could consider in effect those sections of the Second Memorandum of Understanding which provide for the exchange of magnetic field and conventional meteorological data. The necessary assurances came by telegram on October 23, thus clearing the way for the exchange of conventional data over the communications link established under the Protocol of June 6.

With the interested agencies concurring, Dr. Dryden decided that should the Soviets, in the October meeting, maintain their opposition to parallel reviews of space biology and medicine, he would propose as a compromise that Soviet and American specialists prepare and [Page 65] submit equivalent background material for each agreed chapter. With this raw material in hand, a Joint Editorial Board would assign to a single author, either Soviet or American, the actual task of preparing each chapter for publication. This procedure would satisfy the American concern that there be an equivalent exchange of data; it would assure the availability of Soviet data to American authors; and it would meet the Soviet objection to parallel chapters.

In addition, Dr. Dryden proposed an exchange of visits by expert teams to deep space tracking stations and an exchange of data which might result from 1964 Mars missions.

In the New York meeting, the agreed portions of the Second Memorandum of Understanding were signed on November 5 and submitted through the respective Missions to the UN to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. No agreement was reached on the space biology and medicine project. The Soviets rejected the American compromise proposal and continued to insist that authors be assigned at once without any assurance that Soviet data would be made available to American authors and, indeed, with no mechanism for making it available. Dr. Dryden explained that the United States position was flexible in detail but that no agreement would be possible that did not provide a sound prospect of an exchange of equivalent data. The American representatives offered to elucidate their position in writing for further Soviet consideration, and this has since been done by means of a Dryden-to-Blagonravov letter of December 2.

Blagonravov accepted in principle the proposal for an exchange of visits to deep space tracking stations but suggested that the detailed arrangements be left to correspondence. Dr. Dryden has since pursued this suggestion in a letter of December 8, outlining a plan for reciprocal visits by Soviet and American teams to the stations at Goldstone, California, and at Yevpatoriya in the Crimea. With regard to our proposal for an exchange of data gained from 1964 Mars missions, Blagonravov replied that the Soviets would be willing to exchange data if they should fly Mars missions and these should be successful.

On several occasions during the course of the discussions, the Soviets expressed an interest in exchanging information on closed ecological systems. Dr. Dryden informed them that we stood ready to consider any specific proposals that the Soviets wished to make.

Our experience since June suggests that the Soviets are willing to cooperate in a generalized and limited way, but that they remain relatively inflexible with respect to commitments in negotiation and are laggard in execution. Their performance does not seriously reflect the assurances recently offered by Academician Keldysh and Foreign Minister [Page 66] Gromyko that the Soviet Union is receptive to expanded cooperation in space research.5

We shall continue to examine our developing program for possible opportunities for cooperation with the Soviet Union. For the immediate future, it might be useful to convey to top Soviet leadership, as opportunity affords, our dissatisfaction with the painfully slow and limited progress to date, as well as with Soviet reluctance to enter into reasonable arrangements for implementing agreements. It may be that Soviet leadership does not know of these limitations in performance. (In this connection, the attached material was provided to Dr. Hornig before his recent visit to the Soviet Union.)6

Dr. Dryden is now awaiting responses from Academician Blagonravov to his letters on the space biology and deep space station projects. We are in continuing contact on these matters with your staff, the Department of State, and other agencies, and I shall continue to keep you directly informed.

Respectfully yours,

James E. Webb
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Charles E. Johnson Files, Cooperation in Space, US–USSR #2, Box 14. Secret. A copy was sent to Secretary Rusk.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid.)
  3. For texts, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 1164–1168.
  4. The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space of the UN General Assembly held its sixth session at New York October 26–November 6. For excerpts of its report, see ibid., pp. 1168–1177.
  5. Gromyko’s comments are in a Rusk-Gromyko memorandum of conversation, December 2, during a general discussion of disarmament matters in a private session at the UN General Assembly. Secretary Rusk told Gromyko that the United States was prepared to go “as far as possible” in the field of space cooperation, but noted that “we were sufficiently realistic to understand that where military aspects were involved, cooperation might be limited.” Gromyko replied that the Soviets favored cooperation “in principle” but would find it easier to respond if the United States fielded specific proposals. “He said that he would be in touch with Mr. Webb of NASA and perhaps we [the United States] would have some suggestions to make.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1964–66, SP 6)
  6. Not printed; the report was entitled “Status of NASA/Soviet Academy Cooperation in Space.” Hornig visited the Soviet Union for 2 weeks in mid-November with Assistant Secretary of Commerce Hollomon and business leaders from IBM, DuPont, and Bell Labs as part of a planned exchange visit. Hornig believed that he was the first senior U.S. Government official to see Brezhnev and Kosygin after the change of government; “that was the first time the President really became clear that science and technology had a role to play in the conduct of foreign affairs.” (Johnson Library, Donald F. Hornig Oral History, AC 74–131) No written report of Hornig’s visit has been found.