May 17, 1955: Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rockefeller) to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay):
Washington, SUBJECT: U.S. Scientific Satellite Program
1. I should like to register my enthusiastic support of the proposal of the Department of Defense (RD-CGS 202/4) which you sent to me under cover of your memorandum of May 13, 1955.
2. I am impressed by the psychological as well as by the advantages of having the first successful endeavor in this field result from the initiative of the United States, and by the costly consequences of allowing the Russian initiative to outrun ours through an achievement that will symbolize scientific and technological advancement to peoples everywhere. The stake of prestige that is involved makes this a race that we cannot afford to lose.
3. Because of the basically new questions of ionosphere jurisdiction that are involved, and because the announced Soviet program in interplanetary communications makes it certain that a vigorous propaganda will be employed to exploit all possible derogatory implications of any American success that may be achieved, it is highly important that the U.S. effort be initiated under auspices that are least vulnerable to effective criticism. The extraordinary opportunities for exploitation of superstitions on the one hand and of imputed military hazards on the other that are inherent in a scientific "breakthrough" of such novelty make it imperative to enlist many voices speaking for numbers of nations to allay the potentially boundless fears that may be stirred up, even though they are quite unwarranted.
I agree, therefore, with the suggested procedure of having our Government announce that it is ready to support the project through the U.S. National Committee of the International Geophysical Year. It is important for the following reasons that the U.S. proposal be made public at the time when it is submitted to the IGY:
A. The International Geophysical Year was established by the International Union of Scientific Societies which in turn is affiliated with UNESCO-part of the United Nations structure.
B. I am informed that the IGY in its Rome meeting last year endorsed the launching of a satellite as a desirable scientific step.
C. Since Russia is represented in this organization it would be in a position to know immediately of any U.S. offer made by the Government through the U.S. National Committee to launch a satellite.
D. If the U.S. offer was not made public the Soviet might take immediate action and do one of two things:
1) Announce it has already launched a satellite.
2) Make an offer to launch one themselves . . . .
4. The announcement of the U.S. offer might be made by Ambassador Lodge to the United Nations. Although the IGY is affiliated with the United Nations, for public reassurance the Ambassador might state that the United States would welcome some form of direct U.N. sponsorship for the project since its intent was to contribute to the world body of scientific knowledge through study of the satellite in flight. Needless to say, the offer of sharing knowledge would not be extended to the method of launching.
5. The fact that Russia was represented upon the International Geophysical Year which endorsed a satellite launching project can be used to good effect by us in the event that there should be a concerted Communist effort to brand the project as evil or threatening. We should, alternatively, be ready to meet a Soviet statement that it, too, is preparing to launch a satellite upon a shorter timetable or even, at some date, an announcement, true or false, that it has launched one.
6. Since a U.S. success in being the first to launch a small uninstrumented satellite could be quickly discounted if the Soviets were to follow it with an initial success in the launching of a satellite of more sophisticated type, I believe that the exploratory work on the latter type recommended in paragraph 11 C of the Department of Defense memorandum should be pursued vigorously in the United States concurrently with the program recommended for immediate implementation.
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