139. Memorandum From David Elliott of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1 2


  • Addendum to the Memorandum on the Meeting with the President on NASA’s Budget

Jim Mitchell thought there is some chance the President may raise one or two questions relating to the military implications of NASA’s programs, and that you might want to be prepared to respond to these. On other occasions, the President has expressed interest in the possible military applications of the shuttle, and has questioned the need for a separate civil remote sensing program when high resolution photo coverage is available from intelligence satellites.

Military Use of the Shuttle

DOD intends to use the shuttle mainly as a basic launch vehicle, that is, for a cheaper ride to space for the current type of satellite than that provided by the Titan series of expendable launchers. The prospect of using the shuttle to recapture our satellites and to refurbish and reuse them, or to replenish the expendables of satellites in orbit to extend their useful lifetime, has been considered by DOD. Their firm commitment to such use, however, will wait until the early ′80s when the actual capabilities of the shuttle will have been clearly demonstrated.

As far as using the shuttle’s greater capacity, flexibility, and revisit ability to undertake new military missions in space, DOD’s evaluations have not produced much in the way of new ideas. It is believed by many, however, that once established, DOD will find new ways of making use of the shuttle. The ability to erect large structures in space (such as vast antennas) seems likely to lead to new military/intelligence applications.

The President had earlier asked about the possible use of the shuttle to capture or destroy enemy satellites. The shuttle could carry and launch a satellite interceptor. [text not declassified]

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Using Intelligence Photo Satellites for Civil Purposes

There is limited use of intelligence satellites photographs to meet some civil needs of the federal government. The broader use of such photos, possibly even as a substitute for LANDSAT, presents several problems.

  • —Although of superior spatial resolution, the ground coverage of intelligence satellites is much more limited than that provided by LANDSAT, and there is no precise spectral (color) discrimination.
  • —The photo-interpreter scannings of intelligence satellite photos is much too costly an approach for the civil users. They require data in electronic form that can be computer analyzed.
  • —There is already suspicion among some countries that U.S. intelligence satellites are used to provide economic intelligence as well as military information. If we confirmed this by openly using intelligence photos for earth resource surveys, we could expect a significant international outcry against the continued overflight of our intelligence satellites. We do not want to jeopardize the international acceptability of a system so important to our national security.

Because the President evinced interest in this question earlier, a study of the issues involved has been carried out by the NSC Under Secretaries Committee. That study will reach the President this month.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential File of NSC Logged Documents, Box 47, 7606173. Secret. Scowcroft initialed the memorandum.
  2. Elliott relayed to Scowcroft information about President Ford’s interest in potential military applications of the space shuttle and use of intelligence satellite data for civil purposes.