May 3, 1956: Memorandum of Discussion at the 283d Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington:
The Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs ' explained the problems which confronted the development of an earth satellite, and analyzed the recommendations of the NSC Planning Board for Council action on this subject (copy of briefing note filed in the minutes of the meeting). Mr. Anderson then suggested that Secretary Wilson speak first, to be followed by Dr. Alan Waterman, Director, National Science Foundation.
After a moment's hesitation, Secretary Wilson said he did have one point he wished to make. The proposed record of action made provision for avoidance by the earth satellite program of any interference with the Defense Department programs for the ICBM and the IRBM. While this was sound, Secretary Wilson pointed out that there were other programs and projects on "our Master Urgency List" with which the earth satellite program should not come into conflict. Accordingly, he suggested a priority for the earth satellite program just under the items listed in the Defense Department's Master Urgency List. Secretary Wilson also indicated his support for the original program designed to try to launch six earth satellites. He concluded with a warning that the earth satellite program must not be permitted to limit or interfere with major Defense Department programs.
Dr. Waterman opened with a statement that American scientists generally were eager to see the earth satellite program carried out very actively. Dr. Waterman believed that this could be done if we were to add six more satellites to the original six planned for in implementation of the policy set forth in NSC 5520. He reminded the Council that the National Science Foundation had made a supplementary request for funds in the amount of $28 million for the earth satellite program. There was plainly no reluctance on the part of Congress to provide additional funds for this project. This request on Congress for additional funds was designed by the National Science Foundation to cover as far as possible the cost of adding six additional satellites to the six originally planned. On the other hand, Dr. Waterman said, the National Science Foundation was now willing to leave the question of an additional six satellites open, provided the question was kept under continuous review. In any case, he insisted, it was essential to try to get at least one and perhaps several successful flights of an earth satellite. If there were several such successful flights, we would have much more complete and precise scientific information.
Dr. Waterman then explained that there were two particular aspects of the earth satellite program deserving of special emphasis. First, the scientific significance of the program was very considerable. In illustration of this point Dr. Waterman cited several instances of scientific data which could be expected as a result of the successful launching of an earth satellite. Information of great value for meteorology would be certain to be achieved. Information of value with regard to communications could also be expected, and this latter information would be of great interest to the Department of Defense.
The second point of emphasis was the international nature of the commitment the United States had made to launch an earth satellite. This announcement had been enthusiastically acclaimed by scientists and scholars all over the world. Accordingly, both from the point of view of our own immediate national interest and from the aspect of peaceful world cooperation, the earth satellite program should be vigorously carried out under U.S. leadership. Dr. Waterman concluded by predicting that this investment would pay off in increased good will towards the United States from all the other countries in the world.
When Dr. Waterman had concluded his statement, the President said he could perceive no objection to the provision of additional funds necessary to carry out the program for the original six satellites. On the other hand, he did not see any need now or any reason to expand this program by adding six additional satellites. He therefore recommended that we push on with the program of six satellites despite the additional cost, and that we make the decision to add additional satellites only if we subsequently found that we needed additional scientific information.
Secretary Wilson said that he strongly approved the recommendation of the Planning Board now before the Council-namely, to proceed with the original program, with the proviso that a further report on the need for an additional six satellites be submitted to the Council next autumn. The President repeated his view that it might prove possible and desirable to add an additional six satellites later on if success were achieved by the present program.
Secretary Wilson reminded the Council of some of the facts in the early development of the earth satellite program. He pointed out that originally the program called for the launching of a simple, comparatively uninstrumented earth satellite about the size of a basketball. As the program developed in the Department of Defense, plans were agreed upon for elaboration of the instrumentation of the satellites. If such instrumentation became too elaborate, there were bound to be high costs as well as possible interference by the earth satellite program with the ballistic missile programs of the Defense Department.
The President said that it had been his understanding when the Council first adopted NSC 5520, that it had been informed that the successful launching of an earth satellite might be expected to provide information useful to the programs for developing the ICBM and the IRBM. Secretary Wilson, however, pointed out that it was likely to be the other way round, and that the missile programs would be helpful to the earth satellite program rather than the reverse. In any event, there was no evidence available at present that the launching of an earth satellite would provide any notable assistance to the ballistic missile programs of the Defense Department. The President said he judged he was mistaken, and Secretary Wilson went on to say that much the same scientists and technicians were working on the missile programs and on the earth satellite program, and there were by no means too many such knowledgeable people. There was also, of course, a severe budgetary problem.
Secretary Humphrey wondered if the National Security Council must not now decide to carry out such programs as this on a more selective basis. There was a terrific financial burden on our country already, and military costs were steadily increasing. All these programs must be set in a better order. The earth satellite program was an interesting thing and it might even prove helpful; but was the earth satellite program really a pressing and urgent matter? Were we, for instance, willing to cut out an infantry division or a certain number of B-52 aircraft, in order to launch successfully an earth satellite? If we add something to the Defense Department programs we should be prepared to cancel some other program. We were in no position to do everything that seemed to us interesting and useful. If we put these programs in some order of priority we would go a long way to help solve our budgetary problems.
Dr. Flemming called the Council's attention to the fact that the action proposed on this subject by the NSC Planning Board confined itself to reaffirming the original program to launch six satellites. Nevertheless, replied Secretary Humphrey, the cost of even the original program was already going out of sight. This project, he insisted, ought to be lined up against other Defense Department programs and projects to see which one of the latter we cancel out in favor of developing the earth satellite.
The President said that he had not been notably enthusiastic about the earth satellite program when it had first been considered by the National Security Council, but that we certainly could not back out of it now. The President could not imagine the United States having made an announcement that it proposed to launch an earth satellite and then failing to deliver on its commitment. To this Secretary Humphrey replied by proposing that we spend the sum of $20 million originally estimated to be the cost of launching an earth satellite, and see whether we could get one up into its orbit for this amount of money.
Secretary Wilson said that the successful launching of an earth satellite might one day provide information of very considerable value to the defense of the United States. He was presently engaged in trying hard to prevent the Soviets from having access to valuable secrets of the Defense Department. Accordingly, he was much interested to know whether, if the earth satellite were successful, all the information we obtained from its flight was going to be made known to all the nations of the world, as seemed to be proposed by the people responsible for the International Geophysical Year programs. If this proved to be the case, Secretary Wilson asked how we were expected to keep ahead of the Soviets.
Mr. Anderson pointed out to the President that there were two parts to the problem before the National Security Council. One was the recommendation to go ahead with the development of the six-satellite program. The other was the question of the need for additional satellites. The answer to this would come later.
The President said he understood this perfectly, but that he wished to ask some questions about the nature of the instrumentation to be used in the earth satellite. In response, Secretary Holaday explained that the present vehicle weighed only about twenty pounds and that, of course, there was therefore not much room for elaborate instrumentation. On the other hand, if we developed a series of earth satellites we could put differing instruments in each of them and thus greatly add to the information which would be obtained from their flights. He also emphasized that the six-satellite program was the essential back-up-the number necessary for reasonable assurance that at least one satellite could be successfully launched. Secretary Holaday expressed the opinion that if, after six tries, we failed to get at least one of the earth satellites successfully launched and in its orbit, we would have to have recourse to a radically different launching vehicle such as the Redstone missile or the like. Secretary Wilson interrupted at this point to indicate that when one got into the area of alternative launching vehicles such as Redstone, there was real danger of a conflict between the earth satellite program and the ballistic missile programs of the Defense Department.
Secretary Humphrey then pointed out that when the Council originally considered the proposal to launch an earth satellite the estimated cost was stated to be $20 million. Now we find ourselves talking in terms of $60 or $90 million. The President, however, pointed out that we were talking of $60 million, not $90 million, since $60 million was now estimated to be the cost of the six-satellite program, and $90 million the cost of an additional six satellites, which was not, for the time being at least, before the Council. Secretary Wilson indicated that he was prepared to go up to $60 million, but not to $90 million.
The President then put various other questions, relating to the manner of launching an earth satellite. He expressed the view that if two out of the six launchings of an earth satellite failed, it would not be sensible to go on to try to launch the remaining four with the same kind of missile. He doubted whether, accordingly, the additional four would amount to much as an added factor of safety in ensuring a successful launching.
Secretary Humphrey repeated his recommendation that the Council authorize the expenditure of the $20 million originally estimated, and see what we could get for that amount of money. Thereafter we could take another look. The President replied that the trouble with Secretary Humphrey's recommendation was that funds might run out and we would have to stop somewhere in the middle of our effort to launch an earth satellite. He still wanted to know what assurance we would get from the attempt to launch six satellites that we would not already have secured from the effort to launch the first two. Would we try to launch all six of these satellites with the same type of launching missile? This did not seem very sensible to the President, who repeated his view that if we failed on the first two or three attempts we would have to shift to a different launching vehicle. Dr. Waterman attempted to explain to the President the need for at least six satellites. He pointed out that success in getting an earth satellite into its orbit depended on the precision with which the satellite was aimed and the precise speed with which it was sent into the atmosphere. If there was an error in either of these respects the satellite could not be got into its orbit. It must be pointed just right and have the exact speed. One could not be sure of obtaining these results with less than six satellite launchings. The President said that Dr. Waterman apparently meant that six satellites represented the minimum factor of safety. Dr. Waterman replied that this was emphatically the view of the American scientists. The President then said that he surrendered, and certainly would not engage in a fight with all the scientists of the nation.
Secretary Wilson expressed himself as opposed to developing very much instrumentation in the earth satellite until such time as we had succeeded in getting one up into its orbit. Thereafter he would be quite willing to equip the others with more detailed and elaborate instrumentation. The President said he disagreed with this view. As far as he could determine, instrumentation was not a very significant cost factor in the earth satellite program, and he would provide instrumentation for all six of the satellites from the outset. Secretary Wilson then reverted to the budgetary aspects of the earth satellite program. The Director of the Budget expressed the view that since it was now going to cost so much more than originally estimated to cover the program for six earth satellites, it would be best if the funds which had been requested for an additional six satellites be applied to the cost of carrying out the original program for six satellites. The President expressed the view that the Council should stick to the original program of six satellites, but should add the desirable instrumentation, which he understood would not be a heavy cost item. The President repeated his disapproval of a program for an additional six earth satellites.
Continuing on the budgetary aspects, Secretary Wilson pointed out that we seemed about to spend $60 million on the earth satellite program over a period of two years. Some 3000 scientists and other people would be involved in the business. We would have to pay them approximately $10,000 a year apiece, since good smart scientists and technicians were required, and they were very hard to come by.
The President again indicated that the priority assigned to the earth satellite program should be below what Secretary Wilson had referred to as the priorities assigned in his "Master Urgency List". Mr. Anderson pointed out that the President's suggestion corresponded to the recommendations formulated by the NSC Planning Board. Dr. Waterman asked whether, if such a recommendation were approved by the National Security Council, the need for an additional six satellites could be kept under review by the Council. The President replied in the affirmative, and indicated that he would expect a progress report on NSC 5520 to be presented to the National Security Council in the fall of this year. At that time the Council could again consider the need for an additional six satellites.
Secretary Wilson said he had just been reminded by Secretary Robertson 6 that it would be necessary to go to the Congress now to get the additional $20 million which would now be required to carry on the six-satellite program. The President replied that we should get whatever we have to get to carry out the original program. Secretary Wilson said that in any event he could not squeeze any more money out of current Defense Department funds so that such funds could be diverted from other programs in order to make up the deficit on the earth satellite program.
Mr. Anderson inquired about the "Master Urgency List", of which he would have to have knowledge if the Council's record of action indicated that the priority for the earth satellite program was to be below the priority assigned to programs on this master list.
Reuben B. Robertson, Deputy Secretary of Defense.
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