2

SEEKING GOVERNMENT

SUPPORT FOR A

SATELLITE PROGRAM

NINE and a half years after studies of an artificial satellite had begun in the United States, top level government officials gave the idea serious consideration, Indeed until then few of them had had more than fleeting exposure to the seemingly extravagant notion of creating a man-made moon. Due, however, to interest in plans for the IGY, matters came to a head in the first half of 1955. In January, Radio Moscow announced that a satellite launching might be expected in the not distant future. In Washington, while the National Science Foundation was examining the American Rocket Society's plea and copies of the Orbiter proposal were going the rounds in the Defense Department, the National Academy's IGY Committee, having spent the autumn in sounding out American scientific opinion, set up a Technical Panel on Rocketry, consisting of Kaplan, Odishaw, Newell, Singer, Spilhaus, Whipple, Van Allen, Nathaniel Gerson, Bernhard Haurwitz of the Academy's Meteorology Panel, and Gerhardt F. Schilling of the IGY staff. At the first meeting in late January 1955 the panel created a special study group called the Subcommittee on the Technical Feasibility of a Long Playing Rocket, that is, a satellite. The name coined by Joseph Kaplan not only was descriptive but also provided protective coloration, a safeguard against premature publicity about a plan the Academy might decide to reject.

Why further studies of feasibility seemed necessary to the panel may at first puzzle the layman, inasmuch as over the years feasibility reports had accumulated steadily at the Pentagon. But not more than five or six men at the Academy had ever seen the earlier Navy and RAND studies. Besides, who could be sure that what would suffice for a military satellite would also do for a scientific one? And, as Homer Newell observed, there was feasibility and feasibility. It depended upon the scale of the plan and the effort to be expended-factors related to costs and to expected rewards. The American delegates who thrashed over the problem in Rome had not seen entirely eye to eye about how much or how little was worth trying for and what would be attainable within the eighteen-month span of she IGY, July 1957 through December 1958. Hence the "LPR" subcommittee to appraise the details of the evidence. 1

William H. Pickering, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech, John W. Townsend, assistant head of NRL's Rocket Sonde Branch, and Milton Rosen of Viking fame, who composed the LPR subcommittee, were to report to the panel before 10 March 1955 on the feasibility and "geophysical possibilities" of an LPR, on the needed controls, the engine, the desired orbit, manpower requirements, and estimated costs. Three men better qualified for the job would have been hard to find. All three had served on the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Research Panel at White Sands and were familiar with the engineering problems involved in rocketry and with most, if not all, of the satellite plans prepared to date. Pickering had seen the Project Orbiter proposal at JPL, and Townsend and Rosen had studied it when the Office of Naval Research sent a copy for review to NRL's Atmosphere and Astrophysics Division and its Rocket Development Branch.

In the course of the investigation undertaken for the Air Force in 1954 on guided missile reentry into the atmosphere, Rosen, Townsend, and other NRL rocket specialists had gone a long way toward solving the problem of putting a satellite into orbit.2 After examining the Army-ONR satellite plan, they concluded they could offer something better, a system which would obviate the weaknesses of Orbiter's low injection altitude, lack of guidance, the dubious reliability of the upper stages, and the dependence on optical tracking. Long after the event, critics would imply that NRL was guilty of reprehensible oneupmanship. The authors of the plan based on the Viking rocket believed, however, that the better should always supersede the inferior, and they had on hand the design studies made for the Air Force. Rosen, moreover, had discussed the NRL idea with the chief scientist of the Office of Naval Research who, while pointing out that ONR was at least partly committed to the Redstone launching scheme, saw the advantages of an alternative and encouraged Rosen and his associates to complete their counter proposal. The NRL scheme of a three-stage launcher, an instrumented satellite, and an electronic tracking system was taking form while the LPR subcommittee was drafting its recommendations for the Academy's rocketry panel.3

Members of the LPR subcommittee had made it clear to the panel from the beginning that they were not prepared to advocate any one satellite plan over any other. In a preliminary report in early February 1955 they declared that existing propulsion systems, if given somewhat more power, could lift a ten-pound payload to the necessary altitude, and existing control and guidance components, "after an appreciable amount of development work," could direct the bird into orbit. If enough competent men and enough money were assigned to the task, the feat could be accomplished within two or three years. On 9 March the panel and subcommittee prepared their findings to present to the United States National Committee the next day. Rosen, speaking for the subcommittee, pointed out that any one of three launching techniques would suffice for an LPR: that is, a large single-stage rocket, of which three were already available, could release "a number of small rockets at or near the top of the flight path," a method which would require guidance accuracy to within a one degree arc; or, second, a two- or three-stage launcher, though more difficult to guide accurately, could carry a large instrumented payload; or, third, around the most powerful engine then under development a new test vehicle could be built which would have the capability of putting into orbit a much bigger satellite with many more elaborate scientific measuring devices. The drawback in the last lay in the amount of time and study that would be needed to design, construct, and test the vehicle. Unbeknownst to some panel members, these three possibilities bore fairly close resemblance to Orbiter, to NRL's as yet uncompleted proposal, and to a system calling for use of the Air Force's only partly developed Atlas rocket. The Air Force at that moment was just beginning to solicit design studies for a military satellite.

The panel was concerned only with making sure that hope was not beclouding judgment on the feasibility of a satellite big enough and well enough equipped with instruments to transmit scientifically useful data during the IGY. Spilhaus, to be sure, arguing that "we must crawl before we walk," thought instrumentation unimportant in a first man-made satellite; study of the orbital pattern would supply scientists with ample data to begin with. His associates considered him over-cautious. Whipple remarked that a one-pound satellite would be valueless, too small to be observable from the ground; a ten-pound, on the contrary, about twenty inches in diameter painted white or with reflecting surfaces would be optically visible at twilight and dawn and trackable by binoculars and telescopic camera. In an equatorial orbit with a 250-mile perigee, its closest point to earth, and a 500-mile apogee, the most distant, a ten-pound instrumented body could relay by radio data which would enable scientists to make precise observations of the orbit, fix intercontinental distances to within one hundred feet, and determine the mass and density distribution of the earth's crust. Newell, concurring in Whipple's view that a solar or a nuclear power supply would be impractical for the next three years, described a recent NRL engineering study of instrumentation for a fifteen-inch, thirty- to fifty-pound satellite in equatorial orbit. The outcome of the panel's discussion was a unanimous endorsement of a satellite project and the conclusion that use of the second launching technique named and a thirty-pound instrumented orbiting body held the most promise of success. The estimate of costs was vague.4

The report reached the Executive Committee of the United States National Committee (USNC) on 10 March. What response it would evoke was uncertain, for a good many Academy officials and some at the Science Foundation had misgivings about the wisdom of including the project in the American IGY program. One reason was the risk involved in having to depend on a totally untried research technique; if, the judgment of the LPR group and the panel notwithstanding, the launching attempts failed to put a satellite in orbit, the United States would have invested a large sum of money only to win ridicule and taxpayers' censure. Any such outcome would also weaken congressional confidence in the National Science Foundation. Second was the likelihood that so spectacular a project, if adopted, would overshadow every other part of the IGY, thereby belittling undertakings of equal scientific importance, albeit, in Hugh Odishaw's words, with "less sex appeal." Third was the possibility that, in spite of the USNC's every effort, the project might take on a military aura that would conflict with IGY purposes.5

In accord with Academy policy, the IGY secretariat always kept itself out of the limelight, in a position of anonymity, but people in close touch with Academy affairs were aware that Hugh Odishaw played a large part in preventing the satellite proposal from dropping out of sight amid the flurry of planning for more orthodox IGY programs. He was constantly on the scene, as committee members were not, and he carried on most of the IGY correspondence. Trained both as a humanist and as an engineer, the Executive Secretary believed Academy policymakers must carefully examine the satellite scheme along with the rocket experts' recommendations. The moment had now come for the IGY Committee to support or bury the plan.

The official minutes of the Executive Committee meeting were cryptic. Containing no hint of any controversial discussion, they merely recorded the committee decision: to ask for ten thirty- to fifty-pound instrumented satellites in hopes of getting up five that could circle the earth for at least two weeks at an altitude of 250 miles in an equatorial orbit. That program would require five ground stations and the services of twenty-five scientists. The costs would probably run to over $7 million. Joseph Kaplan then dispatched letters to the Academy's president. Detlev Bronk, and to Alan T. Waterman, head of the Science Foundation, stating the reasons for requesting government support for such a project. Kaplan's letter opened with an explanation that a fifty-pound "bird" which international agencies could inspect before launching and track while in flight would be in accord with the CSAGI recommendation of 4 October 1954. Kaplan quoted that resolution in full. In concluding he wrote: "The Executive Committee of the U.S. National Committee, basing its opinion on the study of the expert panel on rocketry, feels that a small artificial satellite for geophysical purposes is feasible during the IGY if action is initiated promptly, and that realization of such a satellite would give promise of yielding results of geophysical interest.6

While counting on the United States Treasury to foot the bills for this difficult undertaking. the Executive Committee foresaw that the organizational ramifications of authority and responsibility always to be expected in government offices were likely to be more complex than usual. If intricate crisscrossing of bureaucratic channels later observable inspired academics to wish that a private organization, untrammeled by the checks and balances that attend government operations, had taken sole charge, that arrangement was from the first patently impossible. Costs alone would pose a nearly insuperable obstacle. Men attached to the Academy's National Committee would naturally determine what data were most wanted and would assign to qualified scientists the task of designing and making the satellite and the instruments necessary to obtain the desired information. But the launching vehicle inevitably would come within the purview of the Department of Defense and hence under DoD security regulations. Moreover, use of a military launching site, a virtual necessity, would mean government surveillance. Yet under government sponsorship the circuitous chain of command and the number of federal agencies that would be involved were bound to create delays, regardless of which agency or who took charge. In the spring of 1955 the mere mechanics of getting government acceptance were elaborate.

Since over five months had already elapsed since announcement of the CSAGI resolution, the Executive Committee chose to start negotiations without waiting for formal USNC endorsement. Detlev Brook, as president of the Academy, and Alan Waterman, as director of the National Science Foundation, were to make the first overtures. Because the launching of an instrument-carrying earth satellite would be expensive, and because, as a contribution to the IGY, it would entail sharing information with other nations. approval of the plan had to come from the President of the United States. Before he made a decision, the proposal would have to undergo the scrutiny of the Science Foundation's National Science Board. and, as an enterprise that might affect foreign relations, would have to receive the blessings of the Department of State. Next the President would consult his Scientific Advisory Committee at the White House, his special assistants on Security Affairs and Economic Affairs, the directors of CIA and the Bureau of the Budget. and the National Security Council. Once convinced that the undertaking was worth the risks, the President would decide what agency should do what. Even if a special appropriation were unnecessary, probably Congress would later have to vote money to the Science Foundation for the project. Although the Executive Committee of the USNC was anxious to have matters settled before the beginning of the new fiscal year on l July, there was nothing to do but present the case, explain the whys and wherefores. and then wait. Optimists at the Academy hoped that a forceful presentation would persuade the President not only to support the venture but to give it the standing of a major national enterprise comparable to a Manhattan Project.

Waterman and Brook lost no time in getting in touch with the key people. On 22 March the two men, accompanied by Lloyd Berkner, acquainted Robert Murphy of the Department of State with the project and asked for the department's approval. They then took the Academy's recommendation to the White House and awakened President Eisenhower's interest in it. A conference with Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson followed. Wilson, averse to all military excursions into basic research, was unenthusiastic but referred the proposition to his Assistant Secretary for Research and Development. Donald Quarles. Quarles already had before him a copy of the Orbiter proposal, a note from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air commenting favorably upon it, and two memoranda of 3 March forwarded from the NRL Rocket Development Branch, one memo written by Milton Rosen describing the utility of an M-l0 Viking as a satellite launcher and one entitled "Proposal for Minimum Trackable Satellite (Minitrack)" prepared by John T. Mengel and Roger Easton. At the same time, as Secretary Quarles knew, the Air Force had in progress plans for a military satellite using the Atlas or the Titan long-range ballistic missile. Confronted with three service schemes, Quarles secured from Secretary Wilson instructions to commit no funds to any of the three until the General Sciences Coordinating Committee had reviewed the situation. The completed NRL proposal combining the data contained in the two memos of early March was in the hands of the Coordinating Committee by mid-April.

Discussions with Alan Waterman, however, had strengthened Quarles' convictions that one plan or another was worth pursuing. When the Coordinating Committee, with representatives on it from all three services, recommended support for each of the three projects and a reappraisal at the end of six months, Quarles rejected the arrangement as wasteful. Instead he appointed an ad hoc Group on Special Capabilities composed of eight distinguished civilian scientists to assess the relative merits of the proposals, if and when the President decided to proceed. The group met once in early May to map out a work schedule, but then waited for a green light from the White House.7

On 6 May the Science Foundation received from Kaplan of the USNC's Executive Committee its estimated budget of $9,734,500 for "(i) approximately ten 'birds' and five observation stations, including the necessary scientific instrumentation. related equipment, and minimum civilian scientific staff and . - - (ii) approximately ten vehicles and their associated flight instrumentation. Cost estimates for (i) are $2,234,500; for (ii) $7,500,000." The committee had come to believe that item (ii) ought to be part of the IGY budget in order to emphasize the nonmilitary nature of the program, to minimize classification problems, and to keep clear lines of demarcation between the National Committee and the Department of Defense. The $7.5 million for the ten vehicles was to include "procurement, construction, and necessary system design and development." The other $2,234,500 was to cover procurement, construction and design relating to the 'birds' and observing equipment." The committee felt it ought to have the money by l July, inasmuch as the USNC had made its original recommendations contingent upon starting the program "promptly."

When the National Committee met on 18 May, Merle Tuve of the Carnegie Institution, to the consternation of some committee members, objected to the proposition: it would entangle the Academy in Defense security regulations, thereby barring the rice exchange of data with other nations and defeating the very purposes of the IGY; the program was likely to net scientists too little information to justify the risk of unwholesome political repercussions throughout the world. Supported by Lloyd Berkner's eloquent defense of the plan, his associates overrode Tuve: they concluded that under Science Foundation and Academy sponsorship the program would remain civilian in nature and would prove rewarding. But Eisenhower, torn between his loyalty to Secretary Wilson and his profound respect for Waterman and Quarles. still hesitated.8 How would Congress and American taxpayers respond to news that the United States proposed to spend millions of dollars to obtain information that it would then give free to other nations, Iron Curtain countries included?

In mid-May a military evaluation prepared by Quarles' staff reached the President's special assistant, Nelson A. Rockefeller, and, with Rockefeller's comments appended, went to the Secretary of the Treasury, the directors of CIA and the Bureau of the Budget, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then the National Security Council. Under the heading "General Considerations," the paper noted that "recent studies" within the Defense Department indicated that an adaptation of existing rocket components could launch a five- to ten-pound satellite before the end of 1958; a panel of the President's Scientific Advisory Committee had declared such a program warranted partly because of its scientific merit but especially because it would test "Freedom of Space" as a principle of international law. "On April 15, 1955," the exposition stated,

the Soviet Government announced that a permanent high-level, interdepartmental commission for interplanetary communications had been created in the Astronomics Council of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. A group of Russia's top scientists is now believed to be working on a satellite program. In September 1954 the Soviet Academy announced the establishment of the Tsiolkovsky Gold Medal which would be awarded every three years for outstanding work in the field of interplanetary communications.

A scientific satellite should furnish data on air drag at extreme altitudes by means of observation and analysis of the orbital decay, and on "the shape of and gravitational field of the earth." Information obtainable on the ion content of the ionosphere, moreover, should benefit missile research and defense communications. An annex to the paper noted that a small satellite would not serve for military surveillance, but a successful orbiting would be a step toward that goal.9

Rockefeller's memorandum gave the proposal enthusiastic endorsement.

"I am impressed." he wrote, "by the costly consequences of allowing the Russian initiative to outrun ours through an achievement that will symbolize scientific and technological advancement to people everywhere. The stake of prestige that is involved makes this a race that we cannot afford to lose." The more guarded military comment spoke of "considerable prestige and psychological benefits" for the nation that was first successful since a demonstration of such advanced technology and its "unmistakable relationship to intercontinental ballistic missile technology might have important repercussions on the political determination of free world countries to resist Communist threats." The military appraisal subtly conveyed the impression that the Soviets were unlikely to outstrip the United States in a satellite endeavor. Both statements, however, underscored the idea that here would be a race between the two nations. Post-Sputnik declarations that the United States was not racing with the U.S.S.R. obviously ignored the points of view expressed at the White House level in May l955.'° The United States, Rockefeller argued, should promptly announce to the world that it was embarking upon a scientific project the results of which would be made available to all nations. At the same time, to fend off any Russian attempt to label the satellite a threat to peace, the announcement must stress that military missions were not involved. Lest the Soviets claim to have already launched a satellite or to be working on one with a shorter timetable for launching, the American government must publicize its plans quickly. Concurrent with the development of a small, simple satellite, the United States should pursue work on a more sophisticated type so that the U.S.S.R. could not undercut American prestige by putting a bigger, more impressive body into orbit on the heels of the American.

The initial presentation declared that government support for a scientific satellite and recognition of its peaceful purposes must not prejudice freedom of action to develop military satellites. Nor should the project delay major defense programs. "The satellite itself and much information as to its orbit would be public information; the means of launching would be classified." Development of the vehicle would probably cost $10 to $15 million. the tracking equipment $2.5 million, and the logistics for launching and tracking another $2.5 million, all told $15 to $20 million. Quarles' staff. after examining the USNC Executive Committee's figures, had deliberately doubled them. As the size, complexity, and longevity of the satellite and the duration of the scientific observation program would affect costs, the staff paper noted that the total might well run higher than the estimate. The $15 to $20 million excluded the costs of research and development work that was already part of military programs. Orbiter and Viking both held promise, but exploratory studies should go forward on a backup program based upon the Air Force Atlas missile and the Aerobee research rocket.

A technical annex analyzed in somewhat greater detail the scientific and military value of the proposed project. While the amount of information a satellite might supply would depend on its size and "whether" it could carry instruments, precise observation of the orbital path of even a small, inert, body should give data on air density, pressure, and temperatures at high altitudes-information important for both manned aircraft and missiles and at the same time furnish more exact knowledge about the shape of the earth. From an instrumented satellite accurate data should be forthcoming on the position of the continents, the gravitational constants over long distances, the earth's semimajor axis, and the rate of the earth's rotation. Organizing and operating any satellite launching should give missile crews useful experience. Research in electronic tracking would promote the development of antimissile missiles, since the satellite would have the speed and altitude of an ICBM. Optical tracking, though cheaper, would be possible only in clear weather and then only during a few minutes at dawn and a few at dusk.

Some explanation followed about the advantages of an orbital plane inclined about thirty-five degrees to the equator in contrast to a polar orbit. With a 200-mile perigee and a 1,000-mile apogee, the satellite would circle the earth in about ninety minutes. A polar orbit would require observation stations in the arctic regions, whereas launching at an inclination to the equator from the Air Force Missile Test Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, would permit the use of tracking stations at the Navy centers at point Mugu and Inyokern, California, White Sands. and the British-Australian Guided Missile Range at Woomera, Australia, as well as the numerous astronomical observatories located in the free world. More important, an eastward launching in an approximate equatorial orbit would impart about one thousand additional miles per hour to the orbital speed, a gain ensured by the eastward rotation of the earth. Cape Caraveral, furthermore, provided an opportunity to launch over a 5,000-mile stretch of the Atlantic Ocean and thus minimize the hazards to human life; if, after the rocket burned out, the booster case did not disintegrate or burn up, it would fall harmlessly into the sea.

Most of the arguments for supporting a satellite project rested throughout on the premise that relatively minor modifications of existing rockets would suffice for the launches. In the ensuing discussion White House advisers weighed the dangers of having development of the vehicle interfere with the ballistic missile program and of spending an excessive amount of money on a comparatively unimportant venture. Consequently when on 26 May the Security Council endorsed a satellite program, the recommendation carried two conditions: the peaceful purposes of the undertaking must be stressed, and it must not interrupt work on intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles.11 Although the formal memorandum put no specific ceiling on expenditures. the tacit relegation of the project to a secondary role and the vesting of overall responsibility for the launcher in the Secretary of Defense constituted safeguards against extravagent spending on a scientific will-o'-the-wisp. Moreover, some of the $13 million authorized by Congress for the IGY might well go into the satellite program and thus lighten any monetary burden on the Department of Defense. The endorsement in effect scaled down the project to far smaller dimensions than its staunchest advocates had hoped for, but the Academy proposal had at least escaped outright rejection. With all official obstacles now apparently removed, a start on the great experiment had to wait only for a decision about which launching system to use and who was to take charge.

The choice of launching plan lay with Assistant Secretary of Defense Quarles, for in a secret directive of 8 June Secretary Wilson delegated to him "responsibility for coordinating the implementation of the scientific satellite program within the Department of Defense." Informal conversations between Waterman and Quarles during April and May had produced a tentative agreement on a division of labor whereby the DoD was to provide the rocket, launching facilities, and that somewhat vaguely all-inclusive commodity known as "logistic support." while the IGY National Committee took charge of choosing the experiments and of devising and procuring the satellite instrumentation, the satellite shell, and the scientific equipment for the observation stations. The Science Foundation was to be the official intermediary between the Academy and the Pentagon. If, as Kaplan's letter of 6 May to Waterman implied. the USNC would have preferred to keep control of the entire program, the National Research Council nevertheless welcomed the proposed arrangement, since the Academy could not with propriety serve as a governmental operating agency. And Quarles' Advisory Group on Special Capabilities was now in a position to examine the alternative satellite plans and select the most suitable. Quarles himself had named two of the eight-man group, and the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force had each nominated two, but which service had chosen which members was never revealed.12


Homer J. Stewart

Homer J. Stewart.


Generally called the Stewart Committee for its chairman, Homer J. Stewart of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, the group included Charles C. Lauritsen, an eminent physicist and, like Stewart, a professor at Cal Tech, Joseph Kaplan, chairman of the United States National Committee for the IGY, Richard Porter, consultant for Advanced Developments to the General Electric Company's Missile Division, George H. Clement of the RAND Corporation, Clifford C. Furnas, Chancellor of the University of Buffalo, J. Barkley Rosser, rocket ballistician and professor of mathematics at Cornell University, and Robert McMath, professor of astronomy and head of the McMath Hulbert Observatory at the University of Michigan. None of the committee saw the paper submitted to the Security Council or Nelson Rockefeller's appraisal of the urgency of having the United States be first to launch a satellite, but every member knew of the Soviet's interplanetary communications commission and was aware of what that might foreshadow. Instructed, however, to bear in mind that noninterference with ballistic missile development was imperative and to regard the satellite program as purely scientific rather than politically significant, the Stewart Committee logically could be expected to put less emphasis upon an early performance than upon the scientific contributions that would derive from the system chosen. Any successful launching between l July 1957 and the end of 1958 would meet the IGY objective; what the satellite relayed back might well be more important than whether it began its orbiting in the autumn of 1957 or in 1958. In actuality, the staff of the Academy's National Committee inclined to attribute to the ad hoc group as a whole more interest in applied than in basic science-more concern, in short, for the solution of a technical problem than in the accumulation of fundamental scientific knowledge.

Stewart, Lauritsen, Furnas, and Clement, together with Lieutenant Colonel George F. Brown and Alvin Waggoner of the Guided Missiles Committee staff of the DoD Research and Development Division, spent two days in late June at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and a third day at the Air Force's Western Development Division. The full committee met at the Pentagon on 6 July. After a morning of briefing by Quarles' staff and a summary of "pertinent satellite studies" given by a RAND representative, the committee met at the Naval Research Laboratory and heard the proposal entitled "A Scientific Satellite Program." The Air Force and Army presentations came the next day. On 8 July, after an executive session, the committee visited the Glenn L. Martin plant to see the work layout on the Viking rocket, and to discuss with Martin engineers its adaptation to a satellite vehicle. On 9 July came a long conference with Army missile experts from Redstone Arsenal during which Wernher von Braun spoke for two hours about Orbiter. From 20 to 23 July the committee hammered out a revised version of its first draft report, and on the 29th three members conferred with Quarles about a third draft.13 No critic then or later could accuse the group of making snap judgments.

In the interim, while the USNC urged the Science Foundation to secure money from the Bureau of the Budget even before a $10-million appropriation bill for the IGY passed Congress on 30 June. Waterman briefed the President's assistants and further discussed procedures and responsibilities with Quarles. On 27 July at a morning session with the Foundation director and Under Secretary Herbert Hoover, Jr., as spokesman for the Department of State, the President agreed to announce the United States satellite program on the 29th without waiting for the Stewart Committee's choice of a launching system. Intelligence reports suggested that to postpone release of the news would be to risk having the U.S.S.R. make a similar announcement first. Joseph Kaplan immediately dispatched a letter to Sydney Chapman, president of CSAGI, telling him that the United States was about to act on the CSAGI recommendation.14 As Eisenhower's press secretary James Hagerty wanted to dramatize the occasion, Waterman and-in the absence of President Bronk-the Academy's executive officer Douglas Cornell acquiesced in Hagerty's holding a secret preliminary press briefing at the White House on the 28th, followed by the public announcement the next morning and a press conference with TV and radio coverage that afternoon. The scientists stipulated, however, that no word of the President's decision must leak out before they could notify the Secretary of CSAGI. Marcel Nicolet, in Brussels. To enable ICSU to hear the news at the same time as the American public, Neil Carothers, Waterman's assistant, caught a plane to New York that evening and turned over to a London-bound friend a letter containing the announcement for Dr. Brook, who would transmit the message to Nicolet on the 29th. Until 28 July. Dr. Waterman later estimated, not more than a hundred people had any inkling of the well-kept secret.

Hagerty pulled all stops in his arrangements. Without mentioning the subject of the advance briefing, his invitation to White House correspondents merely hinted at an important revelation to come. At the opening of the two-hour session on the 28th. he described the satellite project briefly. whereupon the reporters rushed for the exits and the telephones outside, only to find the doors of the conference room locked. Hagerty was making sure that no one sprang the story before the next day's official release of the news. He then called upon Waterman, Cornell, Alan Shapley, and Athelstan Spilhaus of the IGY committee to elaborate and answer questions about the plan. To the amusement of the scientists, that afternoon one irate newspaperman protested that he was a crime reporter; how was he to handle this scientific stuff?"

Hagerty's statement of the next day ran:

On behalf of the President, I am now announcing that the President has approved plans by this country for going ahead with the launching of small earth-circling satellites as part of the United States participation in the International Geophysical Year.…This program will for the first time in history enable scientists throughout the world to make sustained observations in the regions beyond the earth's atmosphere.

The President expressed personal gratification that the American program will provide scientists of all nations this important and unique opportunity for the advancement of science.


white house press conference

Principals at White House press conference, 28 July 1955,
announcing United States participation in the IGY satellite program.


If some of Hagerty's audience were discomfited at the confident tone of phrases like "will for the first time in history" and "will provide - -- unique opportunity." the afternoon TV and radio session enabled Cornell, Waterman, Spilhaus, and Shapley to allude to possible difficulties and still reassure listeners that the program involved no danger to world peace. Releases put out by the Secretary of Defense and jointly by the National Academy and the Science Foundation contained further specifics. The Pentagon statement summarized the fruits of space probes in the past, the advantages of a satellite which would circle the earth once every ninety minutes, and the plans to have the three armed services contribute their technical skills while other scientists determined the nature of the experiments to be undertaken. Bronk's and Waterman's release explained that although the Department of Defense would "provide the required equipment and facilities for launching the satellite," the Academy and the National Science Foundation were sponsoring the program. A single succinct paragraph outlined the reasons for undertaking the project:

The atmosphere of the earth acts as a huge shield against many of the types of radiation and objects that are found in outer spate. It protects the earth from things which are known to be or might be harmful to human life, such as excessive ultra-violet radiation, cosmic rays, and those solid particles known as meteorites. At the same time, however, it deprives man of the opportunity to observe many of the things that could contribute to a better understanding of the universe. In order to acquire data that are presently unobtainable, it is most important that scientists be able to place instruments outside the earth's atmosphere in such a way that they can make continuing records of the various properties about which information is desired. In the past vertical rocket flights to extreme altitudes have provided some of the desired information, but such flights are limited to very short periods of time. Only by the use of a satellite can sustained observations in both space and time be achieved. Such observations will also indicate the conditions that would have to be met and the difficulties that would have to be overcome, if the day comes when man goes beyond the earth's atmosphere in his travels.16

Four days later the Moscow press announced that the U.S.S.R. would put a satellite into orbit during the IGY. Furthermore, at the meeting of the International Astronautics Federation in Copenhagen, according to a story in the New York Herald Tribune of 3 August, a distinguished Russian physicist declared that the Soviet satellite would be launched in 1957 and would be much bigger than any the United States would attempt. Some Americana were alarmed. and some were disdainful about both nations' announcements, but a greater number appeared to be more curious than uneasy. In Dr. Kaplan's opinion. the record was now straight:

The clear recognition of this program as that of the scientists of the nation as gathered into our [The Academy's] Committee and Panel structure, aside from the hard facts of the matter stemming from their conception and intensive work on the program since October 3, 1954, provided, through the CSAGI, the international basis for friendly reception of the program. I was glad to see, in the course of the announcement of the program and subsequent news inquiries, that much good use was made of the material prepared by our Committee, and particularly the material in the program budget document on LPR [long playing rocket]. This gave a good solid basis for our releases and comments.

Fortunately for Dr. Kaplan's peace of mind, he could not foresee that the budget by 1959 would have risen to eleven times the committee's estimate. In the summer of 1955 most Americans wanted above all to know how the United States was going to accomplish this strange undertaking. On 3 August 1955 the Stewart Committee itself had not agreed on the method.17


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