The Purse Strings Draw Tighter

The "severe fiscal constraints" cited by the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board had been building throughout 1967, and for the unmanned space programs, at least a year before that. NASA's appropriations peaked in fiscal 1965 at $5.25 billion and declined by $75 million and then $207 million in the following two fiscal years. In 1966 Lyndon Johnson had concentrated on establishing his Great Society programs; in 1967 the American military presence in southeast Asia grew substantially. Apollo suffered little by comparison with some other programs, but post-Apollo programs, including George Mueller's grandiose Apollo Applications Program, had been postponed.40 In the spring of 1967 NASA submitted a request for fiscal 1968 of $5.1 billion, which Congress cut by $517 million. On signing the space agency's authorization bill in August, the President indicated that he would not oppose the reductions, noting that the federal deficit might run as high as $29 billion instead of the $8.1 billion forecast early in the year. The country faced hard choices, he said, and would have "to distinguish between the necessary and the desirable."41

Three months later Administrator James Webb presented NASA's proposed operating plan for fiscal 1968 to the Senate space committee. His figures showed that Congress had cut only $50.5 million (2 percent) out of the $2,546.5 million request for Apollo. Apollo Applications had been slashed by 31 percent, and advanced mission studies had been completely eliminated. The Office of Space Science and Applications had been hit relatively much harder. Congress had cut $146.6 million (22 percent) out of its total request of $674.6 million for all space science programs. OSSA's lunar and planetary missions were reduced by 12 percent and Voyager, a major planetary program, was eliminated entirely.42 Such were the "severe fiscal constraints" that motivated the Lunar and Planetary Missions Board to ask for reexamination of MSC's lunar exploration plans.

The fiscal crunch of 1967 was the beginning of a long period of comparative austerity for the American space program. Domestic programs and the nation's growing participation in the Vietnam war created severe pressure on all government programs, and space was no exception. At first Apollo suffered less than other space projects, but eventually it too would shrink as a result of changing national priorities.

40. Compton and Benson, Living and Working in Space, pp. 83-102.

41. Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, vol. 3, no. 34, p. 1193.

42. Senate, Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, NASA's Proposed Operating Plan for Fiscal Year 1968, hearing, 90/1, Nov. 8, 1967. For the tribulations and demise of Voyager, see Edward Clinton Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell, On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet 1958-1978, NASA SP-4212 (Washington, 1984), pp. 85-1 19; for a general discussion of NASA's budget process and the "phasing down of the space program" in the middle to late 1960s, see Arnold S. Levine, Managing NASA in the Apollo Era, NASA SP-4102 (Washington, 1982), pp. 179-209.

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