Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[315] Cooperation in space projects with the Western nations, while diverse and forthcoming, was nevertheless limited in scale. If it was true that a powerful benefit of the space program was to be gained from the management and conduct of large, complex projects, its Webb and French journalist J. J. Servan-Schreiber thought, these were benefits that other countries were not going to get from cooperation on individual experiments or even in the preparation of Explorer-class satellites. In December 1965 on the occasion of West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard's visit to Washington, President Johnson, drawing on suggestions from NASA, invited European countries to pool their resources in a major spacecraft project as in advanced technological exercise of considerable scientific merit.46 Following up on Johnson's suggestion, Frutkin and the author went to Europe in February 1966 to begin discussions with European countries and the European Space Research Organization, exploring the possibility that these nations might find it to their advantage to step tip their space research to larger, more complex projects.
NASA suggested it spacecraft to send probes into the Jupiter atmosphere as the kind of project that was sufficiently advanced to task both management and industry and was bound to advance European technology in important ways. At the same time NASA emphasized that the Jupiter probe suggestion was only illustrative, and that other projects would serve the same purpose. Another possibility might be a solar probe to go very close to the sun to investigate magnetic fields and the interplanetary environment in the vicinity of our star. The NASA delegation spoke with groups from West Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Space Research Organization, beginning with scientists and government officials in Germany.47 The reaction waits surprising.
Most of those spoken to found the projects fascinating, but showed skepticism about the ultimate usefulness of such projects for advancing technology. Representatives in England were disbelieving and quite cool to the idea. At a time when the nation wits having great economic troubles, leaders could not bring themselves to recommend investing in projects so far removed from immediate needs of the country. Throughout Europe one encountered the feeling that it would be better to invest directly in applications satellite projects that would have clearly foreseeable benefits. In fact, the NASA delegates encountered more than mere skepticism: Europeans believed that NASA was seeking additional financing for large-[316] scale projects that Congress was no longer eager to support. While admitting that the financial aspect was an important consideration, the NASA representatives stated that both the U.S. and Europe would realize an important return on an investment in the kind of project proposed. But there was also suspicion that America was dangling the Jupiter probe in front of Europe to divert attention toward science and away from more practical projects like communications satellites.
More basic was European concern about dependence upon American technology. Both the European Space Research Organization and the European Launcher Development Organization had been formally established in March of 1964 after two years of intensive debate over the need of Europe to master the technology of space.48 The principal purpose of these two organizations was to foster the development of technical know-how, ELDO especially to develop a sufficient launch capability to make Europe independent of the United States for a good number of its space missions. Europeans were, for example, convinced that the United States would not launch applications satellites for European countries if those satellites appeared to compete undesirably with U.S. industry-as communications satellites might do.
Only West Germany was interested in an expanded program with the United States, and out of these discussions came several cooperative projects, one of which was the solar probe Helios, intended to make magnetic field and other measurements within the orbit of Mercury. Costing Germany more than $100 million for the satellites, Helios was a sizable project, certainly well beyond the Explorer class in technological difficulty. As its share the United States provided the two launchings; required and furnished some of the experiments. The first Helios probe was launched toward the sun in December 1974.49 Other than the German projects, little came of the 1966 overtures to Europe. The proposals had, however, started a serious train of thought toward larger, more demanding programs, so that when the third administrator of NASA, Thomas Paine, began to press for some sort of cooperation in the Space Shuttle project that was being debated in the United States, a more receptive climate prevailed.
The same questions had to be faced again that had arisen earlier, and those concerning communications satellites had acquired an even greater force because of intensified airing of differences in the communications satellite consortium, where European members felt that the United States was dominating the consortium to the disadvantage of Europe. But cooperation on a Space Shuttle project was of a different character from joining in a scientific project like sending a probe to Jupiter. The Shuttle offered the opportunity, to join in the development of a whole new technology, which in the view of the promoters would completely revolutionize space operations of the future, outdating and supplanting most of the expendable boosters used in the 1960s and 1970s.
[317] After a long-drawn-out, careful assessment of values and costs, European countries in the European Space Research Organization, soon to give way to a new organization called the European Space Agency, agreed in September 1973 to develop a manned laboratory -Spacelab, originally called a sortie module in the United States-to be carried aboard the Space Shuttle.50 In this fashion the increased cooperation with Western countries initially sought in 1966 came about. While the kind of cooperation on space experiments and satellite research that had gone on before would continue, it would be colored during the 1970s by Space Shuttle and Spacelab developments and was slated to be fundamentally modified when the new vehicles came into operational use in the 1980s.
On the Soviet side escalation came about in a different manner. In international circles the openness of the U.S. space program and America's readiness to enter into a variety of cooperative endeavors came in for a good deal of favorable comment. NASA people could sense a strong pressure on the Soviet scientists to do the same, a pressure that at times the Soviet delegates to international meetings seemed to find uncomfortable. Still, very little changed, except possibly some of the Eastern bloc countries found it a little easier to get assignments to support the Soviet program with ground-based observations. Also, in 1967 France, under de Gaulle's anti-U.S. leadership, managed to enter into a cooperation with the Soviet Union that went on for a number of years.51 But for the United States to accomplish more, once again a change in the political climate was a prerequisite. In the move toward detente, political overtures on the part of the Nixon administration set the stage for new agreements in the space field.
In April 1970, Administrator Paine talked in New York with Anatoly Blagonravov about the possibility of combined docking operations in space. The idea was picked up by President Handler of the U.S. Academy of Sciences and discussed in Moscow in June with Mstislav Keldysh, president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In a letter to Keldysh, 31 July 1970, Paine made the first formal proposal for exploration of the subject.52 Discussions were held in Moscow in October, and agreement was reached to work together to design compatible equipment for rendezvous and docking in space. Work got under way at once and, although the first plans did not specifically include actual missions, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project to carry out a docking in space eventually emerged.53
While the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which was carried out in 1975, did include some scientific experiments, the project goes beyond the planned scope of this book. But in the climate established by the discussions on rendezvous and docking, it was possible to broaden the cooperative agreements arrived at between Dryden and Blagonravov a decade before. During January 1971, George Low, acting administrator of NASA after Paine resigned, met with Keldysh in Moscow to discuss further possibilities [318] for cooperation. They agreed to exchange lunar surface samples and agreed on procedures for expanding earlier cooperative activities.54 These Low-Keldysh agreements, as they came to be called, established a basis for increased cooperation between the two countries in both space science and applications. It remained to be seen whether the agreements would lead to further integrated undertakings, such as Apollo-Soyuz, or would continue to produce coordinated programs like the lunar sample exchanges.