Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

 
 
CHAPTER 21
 
BUDGETS
 
 
 
[378] To the scientists in space program management, nothing could be duller than an endless round of budgets, appropriations, obligations, cost [379] accruals, and expenditures. Hence it came as something of a surprise when one of the author's colleagues on the financial side of things began to commiserate that the fates had tricked so many people into the boring, impersonal, uninspiring field of science, when by a more happy stroke of fortune they might have been led into the vital, intensely human, and real world of budget and finance!.
 
The phrase "real world of budget and finance" struck a responsive chord, for clearly the resources made available to NASA determined what the agency could do. Moreover, those who did deal full time with the budgets and expenses of the agency were undoubtedly the most completely informed as to what NASA was doing, at least in a general sense, and probably had as good an idea as anyone as to how all the parts fitted together into a total program. Through a detailed analysis of the agency's budget requests, appropriations, and expenditures the historian can get a comprehensive picture of what NASA was up to, and at the very least can put together a complete framework around which to weave the very human story of the nation's venture into space. Although such an analysis is beyond the author's interests and powers of endurance, a few general observations are in order.
 
As it was, the fates that had led scientists into NASA Headquarters had provided amply for their participation in the "real world of budget and finance." Work with budgets never ceased. It was an essential part of converting plans into reality. In the spring, even as the defense before Congress of the current budget request was getting under way, the agency would begin exchanges with the Bureau of the Budget-which became the Office of Management and Budget under Nixon-as to the likely acceptable level of the next budget request, for the period beginning some 16 months later. Throughout the spring and summer the detail of this exchange would grow until by fall the bureau would have in its hands a complete budget proposal. The proposal, of course, had grown out of the program planning that went on continually in the agency. During the fall and winter, the final budget proposal would be developed in sometimes heated discussion, often with many compromises, between NASA and the administration. In late January, as part of the now enormous national budget, the space program request would be sent to the Congress for review, authorization, and appropriation.9
 
In the midst of this process, hearings on the previous budget request had been going on, and in the summer or autumn Congress had authorized new obligations for the program and had appropriated funds. Thus, throughout the year NASA managers worked intimately with three separate budgets: (1) conducting the current year's program corresponding to the recently authorized budget, (2) defending a budget request for the next fiscal year, and (3) preparing still another budget request for the fiscal year after that. Such activities kept the scientists-turned-managers away from [380] the science they would have preferred to do; but, along with planning and formulating a program, budgeting was an essential element of the headquarters management job.
 
The business of gaining the necessary budgets involved a great deal of salesmanship and political savvy. An important part of the work of NASA's top management was to develop and preserve a climate in which the lower echelons could sell their wares. Much of this responsibility fell directly on the administrator, whose relations with the president and other administration officials, and with leaders in the Congress, had a determining influence on how successful the agency would be.
 
James Webb used to emphasize that the way to sell a program was to get the support of the president. Having that, all the rest moved along in more or less orderly fashion-unless, of course, the agency found itself in the middle in one of the classic confrontations between the legislative and executive forces such as did occur during the 1960s when the Congress tried to recapture some of the initiative that seemed to have passed to the White House. In the course of NASA's history the complexion of presidential backing varied widely. President Eisenhower, a lukewarm supporter of the space program, wished to keep it at a relatively modest level. His choice for first administrator, T. Keith Glennan, kept a tight rein on the newly evolving program. President Kennedy gave strong support, particularly after he had personally proposed the Apollo program to Congress. Under Kennedy, NASA's program and expenditures grew rapidly toward the peak of $6 billion a year during Lyndon Johnson's administration.10 As one of the architects of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, Johnson brought with him to the vice presidency and later to the presidency a built-in commitment to a vigorous national space effort. This commitment lasted throughout his incumbency in the Oval Office, although in the last year the turmoil and emotional toll of the times had begun to weaken his original enthusiasm, and to Webb the president's backing of the space program seemed at times to become indifferent. President Nixon had no binding intellectual commitment to space, or at any rate none not easily overridden by political expediency-even though he had been one of the first to endorse the early efforts to establish a national space program. Nixon enjoyed and took political advantage of each Apollo mission and other space successes, and shrewdly considered the political impact of any major space program presented for his approval and backing.
 
The different flavors of presidential attitude toward the space program were felt in the discussions that NASA went through each year with the Bureau of the Budget or the Office of Management and Budget. In the early years a reasonably well-planned budget secured fairly ready acceptance. in the administration. Major issues sparked by the country's sudden precipitation into this pew arena included the question of how soon the United [381] States could close the launch vehicle gap with the Soviet Union and the relative roles of the NASA and military space programs.
 
Congress, of course, had the final say as to how much money would be authorized and appropriated for NASA. In those first years NASA had little trouble in. getting its budgets passed. In fact, throughout the years Congress consistently gave strong backing to the space program even when, in later years, paring down parts of the budget.
 
In the period immediately following launch of the first Sputnik, committee members would listen with rapt attention and undisguised enthusiasm to description of plans and accomplishments-and then give NASA pretty much what it asked for. It was a learning period for the legislators as much as it was for NASA. As experience and understanding grew, lawmakers' questions became more pointed and penetrating, and no longer was there an inclination to accept a budget simply on the grounds that NASA said it was required. But while increasingly critical, the Congress remained basically supportive throughout the years.
 
NASA budgets for 1958 (fiscal 1959) through 1976 are given in table 8 and figure 68. A comparison of the total space budget with the part assigned to research and development for space science appears in table 9. For the sake of comparison, budgets for space activities in the Department of Defense and other agencies are included in table 8.11
 
The simplified numbers and graphs cannot give a true picture of the agency's funding structure. For example, a good amount of space science was supported with funds in the manned spaceflight budget, since the exploration of the moon necessarily included a great deal of scientific investigation. Likewise, much advanced research and technology was important to space science and could properly be charged to that activity if one chose to do so. But, with these limitations in mind, it is still possible to derive some valid impressions about the support that space science received through the years.
 
First, while never a major part of NASA's total budget, space science funding was nevertheless an appreciable part of the total, at times accounting for as much as 20%. Actually, as Webb continually pointed out, invidious comparisons of absolute or relative numbers did not make sense, because, while manned spaceflight did indeed enjoy much greater funding than did space science-as the scientific community repeatedly complained that did not imply a lack of suitable support for science. The Gemini and Apollo projects simply cost more money, and if the nation was going to have a manned spaceflight program, it had to pay the necessary costs. The proper question to ask was not whether manned spaceflight was getting more money than space science, but whether space science was getting the funding it needed. Webb would add that even if the scientific should manage to get the manned spaceflight program canceled-as Abelson and others.... 
 

 

[382Table 8: United States Space Budget

(18-year budget summary- budget authority in millions of dollars)

Fiscal Year

NASA Total

NASA Space*

Department of Defense

ERDA

Commerce

Interior

Agriculture

NSF

Total Space

1959

305.4

235.4

489.5

34.3

.

.

.

.

759.2

1960

523.6

461.5

590.6

43.3

.

.

.

0.1

1065.8

1961

964.01

926.0

813.9

67.7

.

.

.

0.6

1808.2

1962

824.9

1796.8

1298.2

147.8

50.7

.

.

1.3

3294.8

1963

3673.0

3626.0

1549.9

213.9

43.2

.

.

1.5

5434.5

1964

5099.7

5046.3

1599.3

210.0

2.8

.

.

3.0

6861.4

1965

5249.7

5167.6

1573.9

228.6

12.2

.

.

3.2

6985.5

1966

5174.9

5094.5

1688.8

186.8

26.5

.

.

3.2

6999.8

1967

4967.6

4862.2

1663.6

183.6

29.3

.

.

2.8

6741.5

1968

4588.8

4452.5

1921.8

145.1

28.1

0.2

0.5

3.2

6551.4

1969

3990.9

3822.0

2013.0

118.0

20.0

0.2

0.7

1.9

5975.8

1970

3745.8

3547.0

1678.4

102.8

8.0

1.1

0.8

2.4

5340.5

1971

3311.2

3101.3

1512.3

94.8

27.4

1.9

0.8

2.4

4740.9

1972

3306.6

3071.0

1407.0

55.2

31.3

5.8

1.6

2.8

4574.7

1973

3406.2

3093.2

1623.0

54.2

39.7

10.3

1.9

2.6

4824.8

1974

3036.9

2758.5

1766.0

41.7

60.2

9.0

3.1

1.8

4640.3

1975

3229.1

2915.3

1892.4

29.6

64.4

8.3

2.3

2.0

4914.3

1976

3550.3

3226.9

1983.3

23.3

71.5

10.4

3.6

2.4

5321.4

 
SOURCE: Aeronautics and Space Report of the President, 1976 Activities (Washington: NASA, 1977), p.107.

* Excludes amounts for air transportation.

[May not add, because of rounding]

Figure 68. United Space budget - new obligational authority. Aeronautics and Space Report of the President, 1976 Activities (p1977), p 107; ibid 1966 (1967), p. 166.
 

 

[384Table 9: NASA Budget-Space Sciences Research and Development

(millions of dollars)

Fiscal Year

Total Space Budget Authority

Space Sciences Research and Development Portion*

1963 and before

7045.7

1349.2

1964

5046.3

617.5

1965

5167.6

621.6

1966

5094.6

664.9

1967

4862.2

511.9

1968

4452.5

452.6

1969

3822.0

356.5

1970

3547.0

396.7

1971

3101.3

398.7

1972

3071.0

552.5

1973

3093.2

678.2

1974

2758.5

602.0

 
* Space science was also assigned additional funding for construction of facilities, research and program management, and administrative operations.
 

.....would have liked 12 - the monies would not be reassigned to the science program, which would continue to have to justify its budget on its own merits.

 
Certainly the funding available to space science was enough to pay for a great deal of scientific research. The tens and hundreds of millions of dollars per year available in NASA's appropriations for science were a far cry from the one or two millions per year with which the Rocket and. Satellite Panel had to make do. In fact, the amount of money going into space science was so large in comparison with other science budgets-for example, NASA's funding of space astronomy equaled or sometimes exceeded the National Science Foundation's entire budget for ground-based astronomy-that many scientists were greatly concerned. But space scientists, spurred on by the growing number of exciting problems that the field had to offer, did not hesitate to complain about not getting their fair share of the space budget.
 
When the Apollo program was introduced, the upward slope of the space science budget lessened appreciably. This point was not missed by [385] the scientists who felt that the rapid rate of increase in the space science budget would have continued had not the Apollo program imposed its great demands. The point could not be proved-and in fact there were those who thought that the NASA budget, including that for space science, would soon have leveled off had it not been for the sustaining influence of the manned spaceflight program. Both Webb and the Apollo people were convinced that the Apollo budget helped to keep the other budgets up. With this in mind, as an aid to justifying budget requests, the practice developed of dividing NASA's total request into three parts: Apollo and related manned spaceflight work; other programs that supported Apollo, such as unmanned lunar exploration, studies of the space environment, and solar physics; and the remaining NASA program.
 
For the scientists, especially those who were opposed to the Apollo program, this practice of justifying a substantial part of the space science program on the basis of what it could do for Apollo was anathema. In their view space science, like space applications, was one of the intrinsically valuable components of the space program, justifiable on its own merits. Moreover, during the long period of preparation for the manned lunar missions, most of the substantive achievements of NASA came from the applications and space science programs, not from manned spaceflight.13 But for NASA management it was a matter of practical politics, of recognizing the realities of life: better to assign science to a service role and get the money to carry it out than to risk a loss in total funding just to keep the science pure.
 
The scientists had a stronger reason for complaint when programs were actually cut short for lack of sufficient funding. The lunar projects Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter, all terminated just as they were getting into full swing, were cases in point.14 So was the cancellation of the Advanced Orbiting Solar Observatory, which caused almost a hundred solar physicists to petition NASA for better support.15 But as Administrator James Webb and Associate Administrator Robert Seamans could point out, such actions were not arbitrary or whimsical, nor were they antiscience in nature. In fact, Webb was one of the strongest supporters of a balanced space program. When, in 1962, the Apollo program needed an additional $400 million, President Kennedy seemed ready to accept a suggestion that the funds be taken from other parts of the NASA budget. To do so, however, would have crippled the space science and applications programs, and Webb refused to go along. Mr. Webb told the author that he had indicated to the president an unwillingness to continue as administrator of a program that did not have a proper balance among space science, applications, technology, and manned spaceflight. In a letter to the president, Webb offered to wait until the next budget to request the additional funds for Apollo, a compromise that was accepted.16 Throughout his tenure Webb continued to give strong backing to space science, but he also refused [386] to accept as a valid complaint the grumbling of scientists that manned spaceflight was getting most of the NASA dollars.
 
Given the need to keep within imposed budget limitations, there was a logic to the cuts made in the space science program during the mid-1960s. For the lunar missions, it was pointed out that while the investigations would cease for a while, nevertheless when Apollo flights began the lunar studies could be picked up again with the added power provided by the personal presence of astronauts on the moon. The reasoning was legitimate, but not acceptable to many scientists who felt that unmanned investigation of the moon was more economical and more versatile, hence more sensible. Nevertheless, NASA managers had to insist that Apollo was a national commitment, entered into for many reasons and not primarily for science, and that the most desirable total program would be one that made effective use of Apollo for science as well as for other purposes. The case of the Advanced Orbiting Solar Observatory was different, in that Skylab's Apollo Telescope Mount, which replaced the observatory, would not duplicate what AOSO could have done. One could show that the unmanned spacecraft was needed for the more advanced investigations of the sun requiring long-duration monitoring of solar activity for a substantial fraction of a sunspot cycle, and high spatial, temporal, and spectral resolutions not afforded by either the first solar observatory satellites or the Skylab telescopes to come. Although Skylab in the manned program did provide a means for some excellent solar research, the need for the advanced, long-duration observatory persisted, and in the course of time much of what the Advanced Orbiting Solar Observatory would have done was accomplished in a continuing series of improved solar satellites: OSOs G-K.17
 
But, whatever complaint there might have been about either the absolute or relative level of the space science budget within the agency's total, there can be little doubt that it represented a substantial program. Through the 1960s and into the 1970s support for science in the space program remained, perhaps steadier in the Congress than on the executive side. But the backing was by no means unquestioning. Congressman Joseph Karth, who for most of the 1960s was chairman of the Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, was a powerful advocate of the science and applications programs. He was an equally formidable inquisitor of NASA representatives who appeared before his subcommittee. No detail of the budget seemed too small for his eye or his interest, and space science managers each year supplied the subcommittee with reams of testimony and written reports in justification of the space science budgets.18 For the historian interested in the evolution and progress of the program, the printed records of both the House and Senate authorization committees make informative, if somewhat dreary, reading.
 
[387] When Apollo passed its peak funding in fiscal 1966 and began to decline, drawing the total NASA budget down at the same time, much of NASA's planning was directed toward finding new programs and projects to follow the lunar missions. The initial failure of that effort has already been described, and for a while the worrisome decline raised doubts as to just what the future of the space program might be. It was during this period that a number of scientists-among them James Van Allen and Thomas Gold, physicist at Cornell University-suggested that manned spaceflight could be greatly reduced or dispensed with.19 For $2 billion a year a substantial program of primarily science and applications could be carried out. The overriding theme in the debates was economy; and until NASA satisfactorily addressed this issue the budget continued to decline.
 
Two factors turned the tide. First, even though the manned spaceflight program, mostly because of the tremendous expense of Apollo, was the principal target of attack, there was an underlying reluctance in Congress, in the administration, and even among many of the scientists, to forego something that had brought so much prestige and acclaim to the United States. Second, once NASA had become willing to let go of the Saturn-Apollo line and to stop pushing for an early program to build permanent space stations in orbit or on the moon, the Space Shuttle could be presented as a means of greatly reducing the costs of space operations. In the role of a service to the rest of the space program, manned spaceflight once again became salable. The decline in NASA's budget stopped, and after failing to around $3.25 billion began slowly to climb again as the Shuttle program got under way.20
 

 
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