LIQUID HYDROGEN AS A PROPULSION FUEL,1945-1959

 

PART III : 1958-1959

9. The Early U.S. Space Program

 

 

Competition for the Space Role

 

[177] Sputnik unleashed all the pent-up desires of U.S. space proponents in both the military and civilian sectors. The military advantages of satellites for reconnaissance and communications were obvious, but plans ranged far beyond these applications. For years the Air Force had quietly been preparing for manned flight into space. The Army was more aggressive, speaking of moon bases as the ultimate "high ground." The Army also had the superb missile development team of ABMA with over three [178] thousand engineers and technicians to provide sound, detailed proposals. Maj. Gen. J.B. Medaris, ABMA commander, was a strong space advocate and had the backing of those above him, especially the blunt and aggressive Secretary of the Army, Wilbur Brucker. Navy space enthusiasts lacked high-level support, hence the Navy was not a strong competitor. The Air Force, with responsibility for intercontinental ballistic missiles, viewed space as a logical extension of its airspace. It was already skirmishing with the Army over the Thor and Jupiter IRBMs and this extended into their bid for a role in space.

 

With the big money in the military and their traditional role of spearheading costly flight developments, a strong civilian role in space appeared remote. Even the first scientific satellites were managed and controlled by the military, although the scientific community had access to the resulting data. Almost everyone assumed that the same arrangements would characterize future U.S. space efforts.

 

The only civilian government group seriously in the space role competition was the normally quiet and timid National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which had almost missed the boat on jet propulsion twenty years earlier. NACA had smart, eager young men as well as wise old officials, and some of both groups were determined not to miss the opportunities offered by space exploration. The NACA lacked the money and clout of the military services and traditionally cooperated with the military on expensive development projects, such as the X series of experimental aircraft. The military provided the funds, managed the development and initial operations, while the NACA provided the instrumentation and analyzed the experimental results. Eventually, the aircraft were turned over to NACA. In its first proposals for space exploration, NACA's director Hugh Dryden envisioned the same sort of working relationship, but both he and the military reckoned without the will of the ex-military man in the White House.

 

President Eisenhower was well aware of the interservice rivalries as well as the international implications of a peaceful effort for space exploration. In response to Sputnik, he had allowed the Army to proceed with a back-up to Vanguard, but he had not accepted the concept of a significant military effort in space. In November 1957, he appointed an old and trusted friend and advisor, James R. Killian, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to be his special assistant for science and technology. Killian and his science advisory committee played a key role in influencing the policy for space research during the months that followed. That policy turned in favor of a civilian space program.


PreviousIndexNext