TAPE 1, SIDE 1
MR. COLLINS: Last time, we concluded by engaging in some preliminary discussions of your initial impressions and activities under Mr. Webb's administration. And I think we want to examine a little more intensively this time the first several months of the new administration under Kennedy. I think as a good starting point, it would be nice to run through some of the documents you have that will serve as pointers for this discussion. The first thing we have here is a copy of a speech that you gave on January 12, 1961, and perhaps you could explain a little bit of the background and some of your thoughts as you were preparing to present this speech.
DR. SEAMANS: I'll be glad to. This talk that I gave to the Richmond Chamber of Commerce was the first formal presentation I'd made. I had, of course, been asked to do it, about the time of the election, but I hadn't anticipated when I said I'd do it that it would take place just a week before the inauguration of President Kennedy, nor had I anticipated the fact that we would be in an interregnum without direction, as we had not had a chance to meet with anybody from the Kennedy Administration on any substantive issue. There was considerable discussion at that time as to what might happen to NASA, with some coming up with rather dire predictions that NASA might be absorbed back into the Department of Defense or something of that sort. So I gave a fair amount of thought to this talk. Obviously it had to be a talk that would be satisfactory to the Eisenhower Administration as well as to get across some of my thinking, that the Eisenhower Administration was being too conservative in planning the space missions.
COLLINS: Let me just interject, that was a view that you were coming to at that point?
SEAMANS: That was a view that I was coming to at that point. We had already initiated it, I forget exactly when, November, late November, early December, some studies to be carried out separately, really, by two elements within NASA, one, the Huntsville group under von Braun, and the other, the Space Task Group under Bob Gilruth, of what would be involved in carrying out a lunar landing. I can't quite remember whether I had some advance information on how they were coming on the 12th of January or not, but anyway, that work was under way.
I of course had told Keith Glennan about the study. In this talk, I tried to give an overview of NASA's role, and various things that were going on, in the scientific area, discussion of some of the applications, and then took a flier at what might happen in the manned area. I'd started off in the introduction with the viewpoint that there were really two extremes, in point of view, of space programs.
One was called the Fans of the Space Cadets, whom I called starry-eyed people who think about space life as hurtling to the moon and the planets, glowing pictures of pleasure domes on the moon and thriving colonies on Mars and Venus. I say, "I'm afraid that the Space Cadets are indulging in imaginative and wishful space opera."
But then I also talk about those who are the diehard reactionaries, people who view space effort as multimillion dollar nonsense, and say we have too many unsolved down--to-earth problems on earth to be squandering energy, resources and time. These people say, "Let the Russians have the moon, who cares?"
I say, "We in NASA are in the third category," and that's when I try to describe what our program was. I got into discussion of the Ranger, with the hard landing on the moon, and the Surveyor for a soft landing, unmanned of course; a fly-by past Venus. Then in the manned area, I discussed Project Mercury, the upcoming suborbital plan for a 15 minute ballistic flight down the Atlantic Missile Range.
I mentioned that four weeks ago on December 19, we had a completely successful unmanned initial flight of this character. And then I said, "Mercury in itself is useful as the initial phase of an ongoing program. Future manned space craft will carry crews of two or more astronauts, provide them some freedom to move about in a shirtsleeve environment, and insure sufficient flight duration and maneuverability for missions varying from earth orbiting to lunar orbiting and return.
We now have industrial contracts for the study of this type of mission, which we call Apollo. The Apollo will weigh 15 to 20 thousand pounds and will require a launch vehicle designed especially for space missions. The development of this launching vehicle called Saturn represents a major portion of NASA's effort."
I'll go on to describe the Saturn, where I noted that we had the first stage under contract. "A three stage Saturn will place the Apollo space craft in an earth orbit, and with the addition of a fourth stage, the Apollo will be accelerated to a velocity sufficient for making a lunar inspection. But the available propulsion will be inadequate to effect a lunar landing. We're investigating advanced propulsion systems, both chemical and nuclear, which may lead to a single launching vehicle to carry explorers to the moon and back.
Another possible approach involves the use of Saturn vehicles for the assembly of a lunar landing vehicle in orbit by rendezvousg techniques. We're conducting analytical studies and supporting technological development on these various possibilities. However, long before man first disembarks on the lunar surface, satellites will be used operationally in the every conduct of our business."
Then there's a discussion of communication satellites. I noted "the capacities of international tele-radio and cable systems are severely burdened today and will be exceeded by the demands of tomorrow. NASA is developing meteorological satellites to provide world-wide observation of atmospheric events." Discussion of Tyros and the work that will follow. Then, other benefits. "It goes without saying that space exploration holds genuine significance for the security and well being of the United States. In addition space efforts should benefit the entire economy. Space programs spread across the whole industrial spectrum, electronics, metals, fuels, ceramics, machinery, plastics, etc. etc. "
Then I talk about the kind of spinoffs that may come from the program. "The glass industry made substantial gains as the result of space work. As one example, a heat-resistant ceramic developed for nose cones is being used in the manufacture of pots and pans." Also medical research, and what it may lead to. "In the near future when guidance devices permit controlled soft landings, swift rocket transport of mail and other cargo may become feasible." That's a little wild, I would say.
"Many other ways in which space technology may be put to use in the economy could be cited. Less than three years ago, NASA began. We are already near the first payoff stage. It seems certain the next decade will see general use of weather and communications satellites. We are virtually assured practical and extremely beneficial uses of space technology.
Manned flight in space is close. NASA's Project Mercury will provide us with the acid test of the question, can man survive and perform usefully in the space environment? I'm optimistic. Animals have already survived brief space trips. Man's intelligence should permit him to adapt more successfully than animals to a new environment. Is space friendly or hostile? You've seen that it is both. I'm convinced we will be able to utilize space for the service of mankind."
"The question that arises, how far we proceed? This is a question which you and your elected government representatives must answer. How do you feel we should deploy our country's resources, measured in terms of scientific and engineering manpower, remembering that there are other requirements for these resources than space investigation. What weight do you feel should be attached to the exploration of outer space? This is the basic question. You must provide the answer."
COLLINS: So this report gives a pretty balanced view of the NASA program, gives an overview of all the activities, the required technologies for further advancement. There isn't any particular stress, it seems, on the question of how the manned program ought to proceed. Highlights and possibilities, but it's not really --
SEAMANS: --it's not a clarion call for tremendous burgeoning of the program, for example. I sent a copy of this to Keith before going down to Richmond. It came back, and his only comment was that he was glad to see that I was emphasizing the practical applications of the program.
COLLINS: Even at that point, where the emphasis was on keeping pace with the Russians, it seems there was a real concern to highlight the question of technological spinoffs.
SEAMANS: Yes. Of course this was an area that Jim Webb picked up and exploited, if that's the right word. But it was not new to him. I mean, as you can see, obviously what I have here is a cut and paste job, from what other people have said in the past. I don't know who initially got into the spinoffs, emphasizing the spinoffs, but I think it was probably Keith.
COLLINS: What were your feelings about that? One of the obvious rejoiners to this comment is that if you really wanted to develop better ceramics, you'd focus your money there. If you wanted to develop better medical devices, you'd focus your money there and not worry about the perhaps haphazard chance that these things may come out of the space program.
SEAMANS: Yes, that's obviously true, and I remember digging pretty hard to find some, call them exciting spinoffs, and I had to use what was available, and I wasn't particularly satisfied with them. I remember, as time went on, I used the ceramic for the pots and pans less and less, and the development of communications and data processing and the whole electronic industry as one of the key areas. Because you really couldn't say the spinoff was propulsion and hydrogen fuel in the near term, it just wasn't--someday we may use hydrogen as a fuel on aircraft, but the commerical applicator is quite a ways off, as one possible spinoff.
COLLINS: So basically this presentation was fairly cautious, andyou were not stepping out in any particular way. Also, during this time frame of January I believe you began to kind of consolidate some of the studies that were looking at the next steps in manned flight.
SEAMANS: Yes. From re-reading this speech after so long, I believe I was hinting at the studies that could lead to advanced programs including a lunar landing.
COLLINS: One meeting that seems to be of interest, if you can recall, is a meeting of the Space Exploration Council that took place in January. I believe it was an occasion for the different groups within NASA who'd been formulating some plans for the future to present them for general discussion. Perhaps the meeting was used as a vehicle for pulling together some of these and trying to see if some more coherent agency statement might be offered.
SEAMANS: I remember that rather dimly. Was that before or after the inauguration?
COLLINS: I believe it was before.
SEAMANS: I think it was. That's my recollection. It took place in a conference room there at the Dolly Madison House. The thing I can't really recall is whether the studies that Huntsville and the Space Task Group were responsible for were trotted out at that time or not. Because there was a presentation that was made, had been made earlier, when I was sitting there with Keith, on the whole subject of building these large launch vehicles, which are sort of at the heart of any major manned exploration. I think maybe that work was reviewed to some extent. But I can't really remember what the thrust of that whole meeting was, whether it was on, let's call it the technology, or whether there was considerable emphasis on the scientific accomplishments up to that point and what the thrust should be for the future. That was a group, I believe, that Keith and Hugh had started, which I don't think continued into the next adminstration. I don't seem to recall it.
COLLINS: You're referring to the Council?
COLLINS: Let's take a little different track there, and that is, you came into the program in the summer of 1960. I assume that your immediate concerns were getting a handle on properly managing the Mercury program. Is that a fair thing to say?
SEAMANS: I guess my first concern was to try to find out what was going on and who was doing it, overall. And I was concerned. I'd seen what had happened, say, with Project Vanguard, where the failures were of course illuminated in bold relief. I think we'd attempted to shoot something to the moon and that had failed, if I'm not mistaken. We had, as I got into it, some extremely challenging projects, for that day, like the Ranger and the Surveyor, as well as the Mercury, and it was pretty obvious that there was going to have to be an awful lot of explaining if these projects didn't pan out.
As I thought about it, clearly anything that involved human beings on a rocket that ended up in a fireball would be so devastating to those involved and to the program and to the public, that the safety of the Mercury astronaut was something that had to receive a lot of attention, and did. It was a high risk venture, because in order to pull it off, we had to make use of boosters that were not designed for the purpose.
Now, fortunately the suborbital flight, the one that Alan Shepard eventually went on, was designed to make use of the Redstone, and the Redstone was designed by the Marshall group. Their designs tended to be substantial, you know, with ample weight and they weren't designed to get the last ounce of metal out of the material, whereas the Atlas, which was the booster of a missle that had been selected to boost the Mercury into orbit, was essentially a dirigible (I think we discussed this before) with a skin thickness of 10/1000 of an inch, and the only thing that kept it from collapsing was the pressure inside. That's the reason I think of it as a dirigible, and it didn't take much imagination to think of the weight on the nose from the Mercury as this kluge accelerated in orbit possibly leading to cracks and then failure.
I can't remember exactly when, but as time went on, even those who had had the responsibility for developing the flight came to see that the nose of the Atlas was marginal, and we had to get into a retrofit to make it acceptable. I think we'll get into that a little later. But clearly, NASA's fate, the fate of the US program, was directly hinged to the success of the Mercury program, and that became more and more obvious, the longer I stayed there.
COLLINS: What I was getting at was, you had these immediate concerns, of seeing that these programs that were already in progress achieved proper success, Mercury, Ranger, Surveyor. Against that background of immediate need and responsibility, how did you find time to give attention to planning for the future, for considerations of what the manned program would be beyond Mercury? How did that evolve?
SEAMANS: Okay. Well, I can't remember exactly what the date was, but somewhere, I think it was in November or December, I took a trip with Al Kelly and a fellow named Don Heaton. Colonel Heaton I'd selected as one of my assistants I wouldn't call him adeputy. For a while I had two assistants, and Colonel Heaton was, I think he had helped Dick Horner but I'm not positive. Anyway, he knew how to get things done in the government, and the three of us traveled to San Diego.
I think we went out there to visit Convair, and I suppose at that time we got into things like their vision of the future. They had a fellow named Kraft Ehricke who worked there. But also we went to take a look at the Centaur upper stage, hydrogen upper stage, and I can remember, I had a room with Colonel Heaton, and I remember being amazed in the morning when he did his calisthenics. He grabbed a chair with arms on it, and he proceeded to do pushups, vertical upside down pushups. I found out later he was on the acrobatic team at West Point. But that's definitely a digression.
At that time, Al Kelly, whom I had known because I helped supervise his doctor's thesis at MIT, was assigned by the Navy to NASA, and Heaton was assigned to NASA, by the Air Force. I had quite a discussion with them about what ought to be done in space by the next administration. I was really surprised that Al Kelly particularly felt that we ought to be doing a great deal more, getting ready for a possible manned landing on the moon.
That partly helped me get over the hurdle of saying, "Yes, I guess that is right, in spite of all the near term pitfalls that I can see, potential pitfalls, we've really got to get some good sound detailed planning going on a manned lunar landing," which had not received any detailed attention really up to that time. I remember that incident. There were a lot of other things, of course, that people were discussing and talking about.
I can't quite remember what Abe Silverstein's view was. He was very, very central to the mission planning for all that happened during the first five or six years of NASA. As you may remember, he'd been the number 2 person at the Lewis center, brought down by Hugh Dryden really. Hugh Dryden knew him well. He was a person very highly regarded technically, very opionated person, very strong person, and he eventually went back and became the director at Lewis. I think I mentioned before about the Draper Lab and how they weren't hooked in to the NASA program really at all, and how it was Abe who came in with a recommendation during the summer of '61 that the Draper Lab be given the guidance responsibility for the Apollo.
The reason for pulling it out at that time was that we were about to go out on an RFQ for the Apollo capsule, and if something was going to be, call it a government-furnished set of equipment, you had to know that at the time you asked for the proposals, and so that was the reason for making that decision so early, so that when the Apollo procurement went out, it would not include the responsibility for the guidance system.
COLLINS: What seemed natural to you? Convair suggested that we ought to be thinking about a landing on the moon.
SEAMANS: Yes, Kraft Ehricke was one of these real Space Cadets you know. I guess he was a vice president for planning at Convair. He was the kind of person who would, along with Wernher, they'd write articles for POPULAR SCIENCE and POPULAR MECHANICS and you know, great pictures of colonies in space and so on, and maybe that had some influence on me--not to go all the way with Kraft Ehricke, but you couldn't help when you were with him getting sort of caught up in his enthusiasm.
COLLINS: But at the time, were you developing any sense of what seemed an appropriate or natural next step beyond Mercury itself? You had groups of people who were considering different steps, as the most appropriate next effort.
SEAMANS: Well, I guess what I'm trying to say is that during a period of about four months, I had to face up to some very difficult projects that were obviously going to have tremendous publicity and were fraught with possible damaging catastrophes. At the same time I was being exposed to some of the costs of endeavors that were still on the drawing board, such as large Saturn rockets. The costs of some of these projects were very much larger than anything that was budgeted at that time for NASA.
So it was a question of whether the public was really going to be ready to accept a greatly expanded NASA program. I will say parenthetically that my comment that, "It's going to be up to you, the public, to make the decision," was really my own idea. I was trying to find out how people would react, but also I believed it was true, that unless you had reasonably strong public support, a lot of these things just weren't going to happen.
But then, you know, after you get exposed to some of these things over time, they don't seem quite so difficult to achieve. You begin to get into the details and find out what the various technological steps must be and what the design problems and operational problems are.
I would say that by the time Kennedy was sworn in, I was of a mind that if the whole program was going to succeed, we had to have some goals that went beyond the accepted programs what NASA was responsible for at that time, and that the lunar landing seemed to be the clearest-cut goal, and achievable goal, as compared with for example with going to Mars, which seemed much too fanciful. There were just too many unknown factors.
So I'd gone from a enthusiasm for the nearer-term programs, to a realization that I had to get into the details of theprogram that the country had already been committed to do to belief that we really did have a remarkable team at NASA, and the feeling that the ? should another step, to go to a higher plateau than anything that we had approved at that time.
COLLINS: In your mind that next step, that higher plateau, was in all likelihood a lunar landing?
SEAMANS: Yes, because anything else--circumlunar was certainly a possibility. Obviously that would be a pretty exciting thing to do, and would avoid let's say 50 percent of--50 percent is perhaps just being able to get out there and bring somebody back. The other 50 percent is, when you're out there to be able to get down on the surface and get back up in lunar orbit. So ? it would be somewhat easier but obviously would not be as dramatic, and if you're going to go that far, you might as well go all the way, and see what the lunar surface was really like. The thought of having some kind of an operation in earth orbit wasn't at that time very clear-cut as to exactly what would be done, though we hadn't ourselves been in orbit nor had the Russians. It was pretty clear that we both were going to be orbiting fairly soon, and anything further in earth orbit would be a little bit more of the same.
SEAMANS: Yes. That more detailed kind of consideration came into play, I assume, during the early months of the Kennedy Administration.
SEAMANS: Well,in the first place I forget whether it was three and a half weeks after the ingraduation when there was no discussion, you know, not any substantive discussion with anybody in the new administration. The only discussion, I think we mentioned it last time, was the question of selecting Chrysler for the first stage of the Saturn. I was hauled over to the White House to discuss that, from a political standpoint. But we hadn't yet got into the issue of whether we were going to build the Saturn in Detroit, or whether we were going to build it down in New Orleans, and fortuitously Jim Webb was aboard by then, and he could take on the White House, and recommend whether we helped out Detroit or not.
COLLINS: As a way of sort of closing out further detailings, mood, there in mid-January before Kennedy assumes office, you talked about your January 12 speech, and this document you have here, dated January 19, 1961, a Memorandum from Keith Glennan entitled "Authorized Development Projects," if we could just quickly review that.
SEAMANS: Well, Keith was very anxious to leave NASA in as orderly a posture as possible. We discussed that before. He also felt that we needed to have more discipline in the management of these projects, in both their approval as well as in their review and the monitoring. And so, one of the last things that he did before leaving was to officially approve sixteen scientific satellites, two meteorological satellites, one, two, three communications satellites, a number of lunar and planetary flights including Ranger and Surveyor, two manned flight projects, both Mercury and Apollo, (even though the Apollo was strictly for study,) and the Space Power Project, as well as four launch vehicles, Scout, Delta, Centaur and Saturn, and the F-1 engine, which was a standard engine using kerosene as a fuel. It provides a million and a half pounds of thrust, and it was the basis for the Saturn V first stage as it turned out, five of them.
Even more significant was the approval of the so-called J-2 engine, which gave 200,000 pounds of thrust using liquid hydrogen for a fuel. That was a pretty remarkable development, for him to approve as well as to approve Apollo, because Eisenhower did not want anything be initiated on manned flight until after Mercury had been completed. And finally Keith approved for a project for nuclear propulsion. So that's a pretty broad bold program, and Keith got his signature on it all, before departing.
COLLINS: Let me look at the sheet here. In approving Apollo, how well defined was the concept at that point?
SEAMANS: The concept for Apollo at that time did not include the lunar landing. The concept for Apollo was a manned flight program, shirtsleeve environment, earth-orbital and circumlunar. I don't think we'd decided on a three man crew, but it was to be more than a single astronaut.
COLLINS: Interestingly, one of the things he says here is for certain projects that qualify for my approval with limitations, requirements or understandings relating to such questions as general direction of project effort, technical parameters, planned experiments, management approach, and magnitude and type of resource allocations. Here under Apollo, there are no such limitations suggested, unless there was an additional attachment to it, and it doesn't look like there was. But that seems an interesting point.
SEAMANS: Well, I'd say that the Apollo just barely got under the wire, to fit in with these other projects. Of course some of them were at this time, very well defined. Some of them were actually in operation, like the Tiros. Another, I think, quite remarkable area is the question of so-called active repeater satellites for communication, because we'd gone up and down with Maury Stans on ten million dollars for a repeater satellite, just to get the program started. Keith was really very enthusiastic about the ideas that Hughes had come in with for a spinner type communication, active communication satellite, and AT&T had an interest in a satellite program, and I don't know, I never really did know exactly what communication might have taken place between the Bureau of the Budget and AT&T. But in any event, Maury Stans would not put any government money into that area, but he was willing to put in ten million dollars to come from AT&T to the government to support a communication satellite program.
TAPE 1, SIDE 2
SEAMANS: There was a planning office at NASA which reported to the administrator. At the time of the Apollo discussions with Kennedy, Abe Hyatt was the head of that office, and I believe he was the head of that office under Keith Glennan. I can't quite remember whether there was a change in that office or not. But in any event, when looking at the ten year plan, which is what Keith liked to look at, as a moving target, year by year he'd update his ten year plan, it was the planning office that was responsible, and the planning office tended to be somewhat separate from the rest of the organization. By that I don't mean that they didn't have discussions, with the operational people, including the general manager, but they had somewhat of a stand-off posture.
I don't remember ever having a discussion with Keith about the issue of whether circumlunar flight should be the ultimate goal that would be in the planning document, or whether the manned lunar landing should be folded back into it. My formal position was that, I was not formally involved in what came out of the planning office. And what I was doing with the manned lunar landing studies could very well have been the responsibility of the planning office. It could have looked as though I was trying to usurp some of their responsibility. But I felt that, these groups at Huntsville in the Space Task Group reported to me, and if I wanted to carry out of a feasibility study, I could probably get away with it, and I did.
COLLINS: You weren't the only one who was interested in laying out plans.
SEAMANS: I guess that's what I'm trying to say.
COLLINS: What interests me about the NASA situation at this time is that there seemed to be several different groups. Anyone who had any responsibility for space programs, especially the manned part of it, was actively engaged in thinking about the future.
SEAMANS: You couldn't help but be doing that. I'm sure that there were studies going on that I knew nothing about, and perhaps never even did know. Well, take for instance the small effort at Langley that John Hubolt was doing, of lunar orbit rendezvous. They did show it to me when I was down there, but this was something they were doing on their own. It was a self-initiated study and a good study. I'm sure that if you went to JPL or Lewis, you could very well have found some things going on that never were looked at as a formal part of the planning process, but ideas were generated which undoubtedly helped those involved in those various centers later on to carry out their responsibilities.
COLLINS: In any event, Dr. Glennan did not have a requirement that the planning office, headed by Abe Hyatt, coordinate or direct any of these other planning activities.
SEAMANS: No. No, he did not. I don't quite know where Abe Hyatt got his information, but I think in part it was generated from within his office. In part, of course he was free to sit in on any of our meetings. But it would be interesting to check and see, whether he actually asked any part of the organization to do specific work or not. If he did, I don't recollect it at this time.
COLLINS: I think that roughly sketches out the background, the extent and kinds of planning activities that were under way. We've talked briefly about Mr. Webb's arrival at NASA and your initial impressions. What was your sense that Mr. Webb thought NASA ought to be doing in the near term? Clearly he had to go through this process of familiarization of what the programs were, what they were capable of, but there must have been some fairly immediate attention to what came next.
SEAMANS: Jim had very definite ideas on how he was going to get started. One was, he wasn't going to set foot in NASA until he was confirmed. Second, he did not want to embark on a trip to the various centers to see what they were doing. He did not want to get his information that way. It would be very interesting to ask him how he viewed it at that time. But my impression was that he wasn't really interested in determining the feasibility of a lot of these projects, by looking at what was technically involved and what was involved in the program and so on. Rather, he seemed to spend a lot of time taking a look at what people were saying about the program. He was a pretty assiduous reader of the newspapers and magazines of the day. He spent a lot of time, talking to people, all the way from the Restons and other media type to Stu Symington and other Senators. Obviously the key Senators, like Bob Kerr and so on, he spent time with. But Jim had his own network which he used to sample, test the waters and see what people outside of NASA were thinking rather than involving himself in any depth in what NASA itself had in mind.
COLLINS: Did he call upon you to--
SEAMANS: --I never went in and briefed him, for example, on the details of the whole program. He may have asked Hugh Dryden to do that. I don't know. But you know, it would have been possible for him to ask for a two or three day briefing, where we'd bring in all the key people, and run through the whole program. That didn't happen. But at the same time, he appeared quite knowledgeable, and he was a very quick learner. You know, we'd have a discussion with the OMB, and he was always able to enter in and provide rationales for NASA place and program. He was never overpowered by information that others might have, that he could not have had an understanding of in any depth, but it never worked to his disadvantage, that I saw.
COLLINS: As a concrete way of proceeding, why don't we look at the first bit of documentation we have here from the period '61, 2/24/61, on the McNamara meeting, if you could just discuss the background of that. I think that's number 16.
SEAMANS: Yes. Now, I didn't participate in this meeting. The conference with Secretary McNamara, Ross Gilpatric, Herb York and Hugh Dryden, discussed the following: in Webb's words "a method of keeping in touch at a high level with respect to NASA DOD matters, agreed that Gilpatric and I would meet from time to time for lunch and bring others as needed." That's the way that Jim Webb liked to do things, have an understanding that from time to time there would be a lunch. But that would never get to the point where these were meetings at a definite date each month or each week. He'd call on Gilpatric when he wanted to. I think he felt it would be good to get things from Gilpatric and not have to go through McNamara.
"With respect to the question of accelerating our present program, McNamara feels that a most careful review should be made, that this should be done about four weeks from now, if we can wait that long. There's a general feeling that we should accelerate the booster program. Although this conference was not intended to be definitive, its flavor was clearly one in which he at this time would generally support the kinds of items we submitted to the Bureau of the Budget for informal discussion in connection with the problem of acceleration."
This was about the time, maybe a little bit before, we went over to see Dave Bell at the Bureau of the Budget, in effect to present the items that had been turned down by the Eisenhower Administration--the ten million dollars for communication satellites, the going ahead with the upper stages of the Saturn, and going ahead with the Apollo program beyond what might be called preliminary design.
"If I'm to carry out the suggestion of the Director of the Budget, I take the lead in ascertaining the administration's position on an omnibus bill in connection with space, checking with the Attorney General and the Defense Department, the Science Advisory Committee; that Mr. Gilpatric should be my point of contact. With respect to the problems of annual authorization, in line with Mr. Bell's suggestion that we discuss this, the Defense Department does not wish to raise this issue this year because there are so many other issues to take care of. However, they're willing to give us the benefit of their experience, and perhaps some testimony, should the matter become important."
In connection with the revision of the Space Act provisions with respect to patents, that was always a sticky issue, because the patent situation was different at NASA and at DOD. As I say, as you can see, I was not party to this discussion, although I got a copy of this memo afterwards. It was clear that there were some important issues for example, with regard to large solid motors, that the Defense Department felt should be initiated. There clearly were some problems related to communication satellites, because the Department of Defense had the Advent Project, which the Army was responsible for.
So in putting the budgets together, coordination was necessary. But what transpired somewhat later, a couple of months later, in early May, was given a tremendous impetus by the Gagarin flight. But I would say that this preliminary meeting was very helpful to what then ensued, after the Gagarin flight.
One other aspect of this is that the so-called AACB, the Aeronautics and Astronautics Coordinating Board had been started when Keith Glennan was the administrator, and it doesn't specifically say so here, but it was agreed that this should be continued and that it should be co-chaired by Hugh Dryden and Herb York. Then, of course, Herb York was replaced by Harold Brown, so Harold became the co-chairman of it. At a somewhat later date, I felt that if I was to be managing the program at NASA, I should also be involved in helping to coordinate with the DOD, and really shouldn't have to go to Hugh to get that done, that I should be the co-chairman of the AACB, and Jim agreed with me.
COLLINS: One point I'd like to draw out of this is, one of the issues clearly is the question of an accelerated program is prominent.
COLLINS: Mr. Webb has by 2/24 now been in office more than three weeks.
SEAMANS: Not that long, had he?
COLLINS: Maybe just two weeks. I'm curious how the question of an accelerated program was presented to him. Was that something you were involved in?
SEAMANS: No, I don't think so. I think that was presented to him by Hugh and by Abe Hyatt and I think he got, he obviously looked at the dollars. I'm sure he had presented to him the Eisenhower budget, and that then, I'm sure he would have asked Hugh about the elements that were not approved by Maury Stans and Eisenhower, and I'm sure he was looking at those items. He must have discussed with his own network that I've attempted to describe, as well as internally with Hugh, you know, were those items really important and should we press for them? And since we had the budget figures for them, he knew that these weren't just random numbers. I mean, these were numbers that came from the organization, with some reasonable amount of concrete effort and so on behind it. But no, I didn't really get into discussion with him on this. I wasn't really involved of until the meeting that occurred on, the 5th of May. I had my hands full on the day to day projects that were defined by Keith Glennan, and I think he was quite prepared to let me wrestle with all that. That was a pretty big plate. I think he looked to Hugh particularly to guide him during this phase of discussions external to the department.
COLLINS: Why don't we then quickly look at the next item, which is 17, dated February 27, 1961, and it's a Webb letter of transmittal to Dave Bell.
SEAMANS: Okay. It says, "This is just an informal note to say, I've had a splendid meeting with Secretary McNamara and Mr. Gilpatric. It's agreed that Gilpatric and I will keep in close touch for coordination of Defense Department-NASA matters, with respect to programs, with respect to my taking the lead in ascertaining the adminstration's position on an omnibus bill in connection with space matters." The next paragraph is essentially illegible. "McNamara will undoubtedly report directly to you, as his mind crystallizes." That seems to be the essence of it. "And after further review may cause him to revise his tenative views." Phillips incidentally, who comes in here, was sort of the special assistant to both Hugh and Jim.
COLLINS: Is this Sam Phillips?
SEAMANS: No, it's not.
COLLINS: So essentially what Mr. Webb seems to be doing is preparing the ground. Yes, and staking out quite an important area, I might say.
COLLINS: Why don't we follow this up, because I think the next item is directly related to these two we've just discussed, and that is item 18 of March 17, 1961, a memorandum from Mr. Webb to Bell.
SEAMANS: Yes, I was involved in this. It points out that Eisenhower submitted a budget of slightly over one billion, ($109.6) and it says, "It's my judgment that the civilian space program clearly can achieve a much more substantial contributionin aeronautical research and space exploration and technology of the pace of the program in '62 is substantially accelerated in selected areas. It's my recommendation that the NASA budget be amended by an increase of 308 million, making a new total of S1,404 billion" which I think is almost the same as what had been submitted to Eisenhower, and it goes through the items, aeronautical, 6.5, here's the famous ten million for communications.
"This proposal specifically contemplates that this administration reverse the Eisenhower policy under which ten million of the NASA active communications satellite program would be financed by private industry. In my judgment, this would not be in the public interest at this stage in a highly experimental research and development program. While I do not propose any change in the level of effort, it's important that the government maintain a posture of free choice of action in dealing with the industry that explores various ways of developing this type of hardware.... the entire communication program of 44.6 is financed from appropriated funds."
I think I mentioned that one of the meetings where I was present was with Bob Kerr and Jim. The three of us, met for the purpose of just this item, and Kerr said, absolutely this program should be under the aegis of the government, the government shouldn't be beholden to any one company, for example ATT.
Then here's where he gets into the big ticket items. "Vehicle and propulsion capability 173 million, an increase in weight lifting capability is acknowledged to be this country's most urgent need in setting the pace for the entire space exploration program." I won't read it all, but the letter talks about accelerating the F-1 engine, and even discusses picking up the nuclear the work at the Nevada Test Facility.
Then the really controversial one is the manned space flight, 47.7 million. "As knowledge is gained from Project Mercury, there needs to be a continuing effort to use it in laying the technological base for long term life support in space. An expanded program of hyperbolic re-entry," which means returning into the atmosphere at lunar re-entry speeds, "design and engineering effort on the Apollo A type spacecraft, biopack studies to determine the best way to achieve long term flights of animals and living organisms, installation for an additional Mercury station to handle extension of Mercury flights from the three orbit goal to 18 orbits," which permits covering a larger surface of the earth.
Then, there's no mention of whether this is for earth orbital or circumlunar, and certainly not the lunar landing, such information was very muted at that time. Then it gets into lunar and planetary and life sciences and satellites and sounding rockets, and one of Jim's, an item near and dear to him is "additional in-house resources for execution," no, that's not what I thought. It was going to be, educational programs. This is just to build up the NASA organization to be able to recruit people and so on, and "in reviewing NASA's total job and manpower resources available I'm convinced that an increase in manpower is one of our most critical requirements. On this basis I'm requesting an increase of 1712 positions, of which 40 are headquarters jobs." Now, what happened was that very little of this was accepted by Dave Bell. So we ended up following, very soon, maybe just a few days later, talking to President Kennedy and see, here--
COLLINS: --you're looking at the March 23, 1961 letter of transmittal from Webb to the President.
SEAMANS: This resulted from our meeting with the President, and let's see, Jim Hugh, Mac Bundy, obviously Dave Bell, Glenn Seaborg was there from the AEC Dave Bell pointed out that NASA had raised some important issues, but which the Bureau of the Budget felt were sufficiently important but not of sufficient urgency they couldn't wait and be reviewed more carefully and methodically in connection with the '63 budget. The President was very interested in the booster side of things. He was trying to figure out where the Centaur and the Saturn and the nuclear and the multimanned orbital lab and all that sort of fitted in.
The possibilities got batted around, and at one point I said, "Well, to put it all in context, Mr. President" and I sort of listed how things, tied together. For example, I said that the nuclear program could be very important long term but it wouldn't have an immediate impact on what happened. He looked at me and said, "That's very good, I'd like that put in a memo for me by tomorrow." That's what this is.
So I went back home and wrote this, and took it around to Jim Webb and said, "Here's the memorandum, requested by the President" and he of did a double take. You know, associate administrators don't write letters to the President. I said, "I believe he specifically asked for it, but it's in your hands, whether you want to, you submit it to him."
That afternoon, I was headed for some skiing with my family, so I took off that afternoon and he just said in the covering memo, "The attached memorandum prepared by associate administrator in response to the President's request of yesterday. "You can see here how he made out. The items were, the current funding, and the recommended new funding, and the net change, and then what actually happened, in my own writing here. We asked for 27 million more for Centaur, and we got 25.6. None of this would have been approved by Dave Bell. The Saturn C-2, we originally had $28 and then we got $98, for an increase of $70, which is exactly what we asked for.
I can remember Shapley calling me on the phone, after the meeting with the President, saying, "This is serious. Is $90 million a really honest to God figure?" He said, "Don't tell anybody, but the President's going to approve it." For the prototype engine and for the nuclear rocket, we asked for 27 million, and they gave 4. The Nova type F-1 engine, which was not at that time called Saturn, we asked for 10 and we got 9.3. Multi-manned orbital laboratory, namely Apollo, zilch. So in other words, the President made up his mind that we needed bigger launch vehicles. One of our problems with the Soviets was that we just didn't have the boost capability. McNamara had already bought this. I feel sure the Pesident talked to McNamara about it, and so the supplemental was sent to the Congress went through.
COLLINS: Now, in your discussions with the President the previous day, before you wrote that memo, did you kind of set out what you thought, when you said you put things in context, does that mean setting priorities for things that you were looking for?
SEAMANS: Well, let's read it. I haven't read it for a while. But I did my best to put in writing what I'd said. "The multimanned orbital laboratory is contingent upon the Saturn C-1 which is adequately funded, and a new spacecraft for which NASA recommends an increase from 29 to 77.2. This increase starts an accelerated program leading to multimanned orbital flights in '65 rather than '67." That was one of the issues, couldn't we wait on it? We didn't make out very well with that.
"The multimanned circumlunar flight requires the Saturn C-2 and a spacecraft which will evolve from the design of the orbital spacecraft, a recommended 73 million increase in '62 funding for the Saturn C-2 leads to the completion of the Saturn development in '66 and manned circumlunar in '67 rather than '69." I did use these dates. I guess that was what he liked, because he could sort of put himself in the context of what was going on.
"A manned lunar landing requires a new launch vehicle with capabilities beyond Saturn. This vehicle called Nova is still under study. It would use a first stage cluster of the 1.5 million pound thrust chemically fueled engines which we have under development. We're requesting 10.3 million additional over the present budget to accelerate the engine development. The first manned lunar landing may depend upon this chemical engine, as well as on the orbital and circumlunar programs, and can be achieved in '70 rather than '73." In the Eisenhower years, the lunar landing was always after the ten year period.
"Subsequent lunar base operations or manned planetary depend upon having a nuclear rocket to provide the much heavier payloads required for such missions. We recommend a '62 increase for the development of a prototype nuclear engine. An acceleration of 27" and so on. Let's see, "an increase of 17 million will permit initial flight tests in early '67 instead of '68. Further development of this type of engine for use in an upper stage of the Nova will provide a payload weight capability nearly double that of an all chemically fueled vehicle."
COLLINS: That's a whole area I think we might want to talk about later on. It's very interesting.
SEAMANS: Yes, it is. Of course that never transpired. But quite a bit was done on it before it was cancelled. There was even a trip by Kennedy out there to see it, which was quite interesting, that trip with Kennedy. "Increases to the level now proposed for the Centaur Saturn large chemical engine, nuclear engine, multimanned spacecraft, will increase the rate of closure on the USSR's lead in weight-lifting capability, and significantly advance our manned exploration of space beyond Project Mercury."
COLLINS: Essentially it seems to me, just listening to you read that, the way you frame it, the thing that has the most urgency is the rocket development.
SEAMANS: Yes. And that's obviously what Kennedy thought. Because it's really quite remarkable, I think, when you look at it, that he bought--
COLLINS:--when did you record those notations on the memorandum, do you recall? Is that something from '61?
SEAMANS: No, first of all, I found this memo, after I lost all my papers. The Air Force, tried to find documents and so on to take their place, and among them, and I received on micorfilm all of the correspondence between Jim Webb and the White House, on tape, so I went over to the reading machine at the MIT library that they have over here and flipped through the material and that's how I found this memo. I had to xerox the memo off the reader, and more recently, maybe several years ago, wrote in the numbers approved by Kennedy.
COLLINS: Were you recalling those numbers?
SEAMANS: Oh no, I went back to look at what the actual budget was because I'd forgotten. I knew that we'd scored on the rockets and not on the program, and of course, not on the Apollo program, as it came to be called. Of course this was March, mind you, and Gagarin flew, a few weeks later.
COLLINS: April 12?
SEAMANS: Yes, that's only two and a half weeks later. Then, of course, several days after the Gagarin flight we were testifying on why weren't we doing more in manned space. In the Kennedy Administration, we could give a lot of credit. We were trying to defend an aggressive manned program, by saying, "Well, we're not doing these big rockets for unmanned programs. Obviously it's the manned program, so clearly the important decisions have already been made which are positive." Then they said, "But, nothing on the Apollo." And we had to say, "Well, all we can say is, we recommended it." That was a sticky wicket.
COLLINS: When you had these discussions with Congress, this kind of review of manned spaceflight activity, was this memorandum available to Congress?
SEAMANS: No, this memorandum wasn't. But let's see, this I believe supplemental, had already gone up, by the time Gagarin, flew. I remember the supplemental, it was the order of 130 million dollars, and we had requested, as you can see, in Webb's previous memo, a little over 300, so we got a little less than half of what we'd recommended. 308. I think all of this plus the 10 million for communication satellite adds up to 130. And that went up immediately as a supplemental. Of course there was the additional supplemental of around 700 million that went up in the summer, based on the recommendation to go to the moon.
COLLINS: Just to go back to the March 17 memo, you said you had a role in that. What was your role in preparing that documentation?
SEAMANS: Of course I'd helped prepare it back in the Eisenhower days, and it's not very different.
COLLINS: So it was part of your function as associate administrator to have these figures?
SEAMANS: Sure, it was part of the job of being the general manager. I went with Jim to Dave Bell on this. We did not have Abe Hyatt there, as I remember it. I think this was much more a question of going over with a relatively few of the real budgeteers like Al Siepert, people like that. Let's see, we skipped over 19.
COLLINS: Yes, we skipped over 19 and 20.
SEAMANS: Let's see what they're about. Those two are sort of really hooked together.
COLLINS: Item 19, I don't have a precise date, it's March 1961.
SEAMANS: Oh yes. This is interesting, I thought. This is a briefing memo for the President before the meeting, before we had this meeting.
COLLINS: Prepared by Dave Bell.
SEAMANS: Yes, but it was really prepared by Shapley, I found out a year ago, I mentioned this to Shapley one time within the last couple of years. It's quite a remarkable memo. I said, "It's very well written." He said, "Well, if you want to know, I'm the guy who prepared it." Because he was our examiner, you see.
TAPE 2, SIDE 1
SEAMANS: Okay, this is from Dave Bell to the President. "As you requested, we have prepared comparative projections for the NASA budget on a number of illustrated alternative bases. These are necessarily only order of magnitude estimates, but NASA agrees that they illustrate fairly the impact of the policy questions discussed at the meeting on March 22nd." So this was prepared the day before they meet with the President.
"The case for budget increases to accelerate the space program was well presented by Mr. Webb and his associates. I feel it may be appropriate for me to indicate some of the points which suggest that the lower alternatives deserve serious consideration when a decision is made on the general course of the space program.
One, even if the weight lifting gap is somewhat narrowed as the result of a sizeable increase in the budget, it appears that we will still be in a tail-chase, as there is a strong possibility the Russians will beat us to future spectacular space achievements regardless of what we do.
Two, it seems very likely that the amount and importance of any prestige that might be derived from future space achievements will always be less than the impact of the original Sputnik, and may well decline in future years as the novelty wears off. It seems virtually certain that alternatives surer and less costly ways of increasing our national prestige in the world scene could be developed, given a fraction of the resources and ingenuity that are going into the space program.
From an overall budgetary viewpoint, I cannot help feeling that the total magnitude of present and projected expenditures in the space area may be way out of line with the real value of the benefits to be expected, especially when compared to the many other urgent and more immediate demands on the budget now and in the years ahead.
As you know, even on the purely scientific side, there's a strong body of opinion among scientists which questions the merits of such large expenditures for space research in relation to other scientific fields. Five, a good deal has been said of the need for acceleration or augmentation of the space program at this time, to show the public and the world our determination to play an afirmative role in this and other areas." I won't read it all.
Let's see, "Such a posture could be presented," no, I'd better read that. "It seems an equally affirmative posture could be taken in support of a clear decision to follow any one of several lower alternatives, which would, for example, continue space applications, such as meteorology and communications, and a strong scientific and technological program which would place a much reduced emphasis on weight lifting and manned space flight.
Such a posture could be presented and exploited as a specific token that we are more concerned with the problems of men on earth all over the world than we are with placing men on the moon. There are many ways in which the space program can be used to help in international relations, which are emphasized to Mr. Webb, could be pursued with vigor and imagination within such a program. The proposition that success in international affairs with these parts of the space program is dependent on full scale participation in weight lifting and manned space flight competition seems highly questionable." That's a really good memo, I think. Even though I didn't agree with it.
COLLINS: Yes. It raises some interesting questions. I guess I had that the Bureau of the Budget people, Shapley, your examiner, and David Bell were still intimately involved in not just assessing the validity of budget figures that you submitted, but trying to think through the policy implications and the appropriateness of the policy, in a sense, recommending policy to the President in relation to the Space program.
SEAMANS: In those days, the then BOB was the right arm of the President on his key decisions, and they definitely did. Back in the days when Jim Webb was there and so on. You know, they were performing a very important function.
COLLINS: So it seems that, given this role the BOB had to essentially not just varify the validity of numbers submitted you but had to be very careful about how you presented the policy?
SEAMANS: You're damned right. Absolutely. We got into, in those days, all kinds of policy issues with them, on what shall we do as a nation, and then the issue of who should do it? Now, in this particular case, there was no competition, say, with Department of Defense. But in some cases, we got in some terrific arguments over who's responsible for say weather satellites. The Department of Commerce, then the Weather Bureau, now NOA, made a very strong play to take all that away from NASA, for example. The intermediary in all that discussion was the BOB. I can also read into that memorandum, not just Shapley, but Mac Bundy and Jerry Wiesner. I'd be willing to bet that they had some real discussions with Jerry Wiesner on that one. He would, in turn, know how the scientific community felt.
COLLINS: I don't know whether you can lend insight to this, but here I think is an appropriate question. President Kennedy is confronted with an array of viewpoints here. Here's a group of people, as you mentioned, essentially recommended in this memorandum from Bell to the President, and clearly NASA, Mr. Webb, yourself have a different set of viewpoints on priorities in the space program. Was it your sense that Kennedy personally sat down and weighed the alternatives and made a decision? Do you have some sense of how that mechanism worked?
SEAMANS: That's a very good question. I really don't feel I can answer that one. But I will try to give you an impression. My impression is that Kennedy liked to debate these kinds of issues. You could tell that he clearly enjoyed sitting across the table from a Jim Webb or a Glenn Seaborg and getting into an intelletual give and take with them. You could see that not just at this meeting but at subsequent meetings. So I'm going to surmise now that when he would go back to his office, whenever his schedule would permit, that he'd sit there with Mac Bundy and Jerry Wiesner and go through the same process. I'm sure that he'd have in there Kenny O'Donnell or somebody who was politically astute, and I'd be willing to bet that he would contact a few people up on the Hill whom he had confidence in, so that at least if he was going to end up with a program that would be very controversial on the Hill, he'd know it ahead of time and be prepared for it.
COLLINS: You mentioned a name I wasn't aware of, Kenny O'Donnell.
SEAMANS: Well, he was a local boy, one of the Irish Mafia who went down to Washington with Kennedy, and he was in charge of appointments. His name comes in here a little later on. See, memorandum for Kenneth O'Donnell, the White House. This is when, I guess I was more than a little suspect. They felt I'd gone considerably further than I should, in the testimony I'd given in favor of the lunar manned program, before the President came out for the lunar landing and in effect I was getting into a role that was Presidential, not an associate administrator's role.
COLLINS: Just to wind up this budgetary discussion, let's take a quick look at Item 20, which is the agenda for the NASA-BOB conference. We've kind of talked on both sides of that, but it might be useful.
SEAMANS: The notes, it says here, are Hugh Dryden's. It says, "The future direction and level of the civilian space program primarily depends upon a decision to be made by this administration concerning the rate at which it wishes to undertake the following: increasing the rate of closure on the USSR's lead in weight-lifting capability, advancing manned exploration of space beyond Project Mercury," I don't see any signature on it. It's really another and a more complete assessment of what various funding levels will buy, like finish the Centaur vehicle is one, missions where the Centaur is important, finish the Saturn C-1, and what, why the C-1 is essential; starting the C-2, development of prototype flight engines for the nuclear rocket, and then agenda item number 2, shall we now launch an aggressive program of manned space flight? So the first part has to do with the launch vehicles, and the second part has to do with Apollo, what came to be called Apollo, which includes the earth orbital, place a multimanned laboratory in low earth orbit for up to two weeks, execute manned circumlunar flight, accomplish the manned lunar landing.
COLLINS: It is addressed in this agenda here.
SEAMANS: So there it is, right there. I didn't realize we were quite that far along in our thinking, but it's right there. It says, "For the lunar landing, objective to achieve a manned landing on the moon and return safely to earth using an all chemically fueled Nova type launch vehicle based on clustering the F-1 engines to provide a total thrust of six to nine million pounds," which is what we did. Current funding rate, '62 funds, none required over F-1 engine development costs. Recommend, that's for a '73 date, recommended new funding rate, none required over F-1 engine development costs, this is for a 1970 manned lunar flight. Total subsequent funding including five spacecraft development flights on Saturn C-1, sixteen Nova development and spacecraft flights and four manned lunar landing flights. Approximately 2.8 billion total over eight years. Boy, did that have a lot of--I don't know where that figure came from! That's terribly low. I guess that didn't include the--I guess the dollars for the rockets are included back in that first part. So I guess that the Apollo part came I think to something like six billion, so that's off by two to one. I don't know who wrote that. It's interesting, it's got l.5 to--these are all budget numbers--to orbiting lab, 1.5 to circumlunar, 5.8 billion total, in Hugh's writing. Hugh was clearly involved in this.
COLLINS: Yes. Just a cursory consideration of this agenda highlights a couple of interesting points. One is the cover presents kind of the broad policy issues. The attachments set forth much more of the technical and budgetary considerations. I'm wondering, as a general manager of the program, who was obviously very familiar with the technical aspects of it, how difficult was it to convey the requirements to do something like accelerate the booster program? I mean, you have that as the desired goal, let's move it forward, let's increase our weight-lifting capability, but in terms of conveying to the President and other top policy people the technical steps that are required to do that, how difficult a job was that? It seems like two distinctly different kinds of things, the policy considerations, and how you actually do it technically.
SEAMANS: I frankly felt that that was fairly easy to do. And perhaps it's because that had been a lot of my self-orientation in the past, was to try to explain things, you know, both in the classroom and I'd had a fair amount of experience, talking to non-technical people, at RCA for one, and when I was at MIT talking to alumni groups and you know, going around to meetings in Southern California and various other places, and I thought I had a reasonable knack for doing it. So I didn't have difficulty translating a whole raft of technical things that obviously the President isn't going to be interested in, over to a discussion of what you could accomplish if you had different levels of funding and resources, which is obviously what Presidents are interested in.
COLLINS: I guess the other side of the coin, I mean, President Kennedy could certainly recognize the policy need for increased weight-lifting capability, but how do you think he went about evaluating whether NASA could actually do the job that they said they could do?
SEAMANS: Well, that's a damn important point, and I didn't think he was ready--I think one of the reasons he held off on the Apollo decision was, he wasn't sure that we could deliver. Maybe I'm putting this more how I would have felt, but I think he had to be pretty realistic, and he'd been told, that NASA needed new leadership. The Wiesner Report was not complimentary about how NASA did its business--a bunch of old fogies and so on. That's the reason, I feel, that the Alan Shepard Mercury flight occurred absolutely coincidentally at that instant of time just before Kennedy received the report, to really get going on the Apollo program. The President could see two things. One was, NASA really could manage a program, and two, that the way it was run, the openness of the program, as well as the spectacular nature of man going into space, had tremendous impact in the world arena. And I think for that reason, that little Mercury flight had a tremendous bearing on what was to follow.
COLLINS: So in essence it served as a very dramatic example of NASA capability.
SEAMANS: Yes. Yes. Because, you know, people were saying, "gee, they may fail, and what's going to happen if it fails?" It was Ed Welch who was then director of the Space Council working directly for Lyndon Johnson. He was a big help in a lot of these matters, both in decisions to let NASA go ahead on that flight, as well as in a lot of these matters. The Space Council under Lyndon Johnson, was not very significant, but having somebody of Ed Welch's capability right there within the White House complex was important. He was a doer; He was a charger.
COLLINS: Well, since you mentioned, let's follow the thread for a minute. In terms of the Shepard flight, in early May, you mentioned that Welch in some sense gave his approval or imprature for this to take place. What extent was the consideration of that flight in the hands of those outside of NASA?
SEAMANS: Before Jim Webb came, of course, the White House was already getting into the issue of what to do with Mercury. When I said there were no substantive discussions with the White House before Jim came, I think I may be wrong on that. I think there may have been discussions that involved Hugh Dryden and PSAC, the President's Science Advisory Group, and Don Hornig was very much in those discussions. The issue was whether or not it was going to be humanly possible for an individual to sit on the nose of that rocket and survive.
Of course we'd done testing of astronauts in centrifuges and chimpanzees in centrifuges. And there were very extreme positions taken. One was that we didn't know what the limits were, and we ought to crank up the centrifuge until we killed a few chimpanzees, to find out what the mechanism was for killing them, and get a feel for what the tolerances were, how much margin of safety there was, with accelerations that were going to be experienced when riding a Redstone. So that was the early part of the discussion, and as a result of that, we went with, it Enos who went up on a suborbital Mercury flight? I forget exactly the date on that, but that was in the Kennedy Administration, January or February 1961 somewhere in there.
If Alan Shepard had been on that flight, of course we would have had a manned flight before the Soviets, which as it turned out we were concerned about, even at that time. But there was no question about it, we were not going to be given approval to go with man unless we'd had at least a chimp flight. Even then the question was whether it was safe to go ahead with the manned flight, right into the middle of April before we were really given the go-ahead. I think we were given the go-ahead before Gagarin flew. I'm a little hazy on that point. But Ed Welsh was one of our, maybe our most important spokesman, from within the administration, within the White House complex.
Incidentally, I think I mentioned this before, Hugh Dryden was down at the Cape, and we didn't have very much in the way of monitoring equipment in Headquarters, but I had arranged to get at least some real time information beamed in from Goddard. Goddard ran the network, and why I didn't go out to Goddard I don't know. But anyway we had some of the launch information relayed to the top floor of the NASA headquarters. Ed Welsh and I sat there with our fingers crossed until we heard that Alan Shepard had been recovered.
COLLINS: Was it the President who gave the final go-ahead to proceed with the Shepard flight?
SEAMANS: I don't know the extent to which he was involved. I think so, but I'm not positive.
COLLINS: But other people outside of NASA were involved.
COLLINS: Let's see, you mentioned earlier the hearing, I believe, at which you spoke on the Soviet manned space shot. I wonder if we could discuss that for a few minutes.
SEAMANS: Of course, the first thing that happened was, Gagarin--you say that was the 11th?
SEAMANS: 12th, okay, so by the 13th, Jim Webb and Hugh Dryden were testifying in the caucus room of the House. I don't have a copy of the transcript. They were appearing in front of the Committee on Science and Astronautics headed by Overton Brooks. You know how Overton Brooks happened to be there, perhaps. He was in line for an important position on the Armed Services Committee, and the Democrats felt he wasn't very competent, so in the early days of the space program, they pushed on the Space Committee which they didn't think would ever be significant. He was not a strong chairman.
But right under him was George Miller, who turned out to be a great chairman when he took over, and Olin Teague. There were some pretty good people on the committee. Joe Martin was still around and next to him was Jim Fulton, who was a real pain in the neck. You could never tell what he was going to get into. I almost think it was this particular session, when they were beating NASA over the head for not doing more, he was saying, "You ought to come up with more imaginative things to do. For example, what are we doing about growing food in space? I understand it would be possible to grow tomatoes that would be l micron thick and cover an area the size of a football field." How do you deal with questions like that?
COLLINS: In addition to Mr. Webb and Dr. Dryden, did you testify as well?
SEAMANS: Not, until the next day. This was a special hearing in the caucus room, with hundreds of people and cameras and everything, basically, as Jim Webb said, to show that NASA wasn't getting the job done in space and that the members of Congress weren't responsible for any of the delay and failures. That's in here somewhere. I think the date on that was--
COLLINS: That was on the 13th.
SEAMANS: On the 13th, and a week later, well, first what happened to us the next day. I think you've already gotten into it, but the day that Gagarin flew, I was testifying with George Low about manned flight, and then there was a hiatus for the room very special hearing, and then George and I went back the following day, back in the small crowded quarters that the Space Authorization Committee then had up on the Hill, which, once the power got going, was expanded into umpteen rooms. Just as NASA grew, so did the Congress in the space area.
I don't have that testimony anywhere, but George was being asked about some specific things, about capsules and life support equipment and so on, and all of a sudden, they asked more fundamental questions. You know, why wasn't the Kennedy Administration supporting a fullblown follow-on to Mercury? That's when I stepped in, and I believe obliquely referred to the decisions that had been made by President Kennedy which I felt were positive.
That's when Congressman King from Utah, got into the questioning by asking whether I thought that the Russian had a lunar landing program and whether they were going to go to the moon in '67 on the 50th anniversary of the Red Revolution? These were stupid questions to ask me, but of course he knew that. He was just trying to advertise the fact that he'd figured out what might happen. And as you know, I pleaded "nolo" because I wasn't involved in the Soviet planning process.
Then he asked the fateful question, could we do it? Could we go to the moon in '67? And that's when I did my best to say that it was a very important decision, it would have to have the full support of the government and the public, but that if the decision was made to go ahead, I felt that the country had the capability to do it. Of course, it got into the question of dollars, and I can't remember, I think I said ten to twenty billion but I may not have. I think I was remembering not only our own estimates but the numbers that Kistiakowsky had used, when he was presenting his review of Lunar landing to Eisenhower and his cabinet.
In any event, by the time questions shifted to other subjects and there was more discussion about some of the detailed subjects about which George Low was testifying, by the time that was over and we stepped out of this conference room into the corridor, I was presented with something that was unique in my experience, namely, blinding lights and cameras. I was asked to repeat the statements I'd made in the hearing, and so I remember finally getting in the car returning to Headquarters and dashing into Mr. Webb's office.
Nina Scrivener, was his secretary, and she said, "You look a little distraught." And I said, "Well, I got in a little bit over my head at the hearing and I just want Mr. Webb to know that I did the best I could. But it may be that I'll be asked to leave NASA as a result of it all."
COLLINS: You felt that the potential reaction could be strong?
SEAMANS: I definitely did, yes, because I was definitely trapped in an area that was well beyond any policy announcements that had been made, although clearly I had the benefit of the White House meetings that we've been discussing here this morning. You could see that there really had been quite a bit of thought given, not just by a small group but right up to and including the President himself. It could be considered that I was putting pressure on the President.
COLLINS: Did you realize this as you were testifying before the committee, or did this come to you as you stepped out the door?
SEAMANS: Continuously. But more so when I got in the car and thought about it, as I was driving back. You can see in this April 21st, memo a week later, "As suggested by the Director of the Budget, I've gone through four volumes of the hearings before the Committee on Science and Astronautics, beginning on April 13th." Let's see. "This Committee has a history of acting in this manner, and indeed conducted the hearings related to solid propellants," well--he talks about his own testimony. The day after the Soviet launching.
COLLINS: Let me just say for the tape recorder here, this is a letter from Mr. Webb to Kenneth O'Donnell dated April 21st, 1961.
SEAMANS: Somewhere along in here he says, "In this position, from a reading of the testimony, I believe Seamans has done an exceptionally fine job. The chairman and the Democrats have given him little or no support. Some samples of the exchanges follow. The Chairman: What about Apollo? Mr. Low: In the fiscal year '62 budget submission, there's 29 and a half million for Project Apollo. The Chairman: Do you anticipate asking for more than that? Mr. Low: We have no plans to do so now in '62. Mr. Miller: Mr. Chairman, would you yield? Chairman: I yield. Mr. Miller: Is it true that you sought" I can't quite read the number it looks like "50 million for this project for fiscal year '62? That is correct, sir. Mr. Miller: You sought that, you wanted between (it looks like) 30 and 50. We requested 42.6 million of additional Apollo funding. Mr. Miller: You got 29.5. We had no additional funding for the Apollo Project itself, for the capsule effort. It is obviously a matter of broad national policy. It is also true that the pacing items in this program is the launch vehicle itself. Until we have the weight-lifting capability, the Apollo vehicle will not do us any good. Mr. Miller: Then we're dragging our feet again? The Congress is dragging its feet. People are dragging their feet on getting this large lifting capability. I would not say that, sir. I feel that we do have an agressive program for the Saturn vehicle. It's the Saturn vehicle that gives us our weight-lifting capacity." And so on. And he keeps beating me over the head. He goes on and on.
COLLINS: So what was Mr. Webb's assessment of your performance? There to Kenneth O'Donnell, he says you performed well.
SEAMANS: "On every point in the budget which the committee has" something, it looks like--"has specifically pressed us what our presentation to the Bureau of the Budget included and have asked the question as to why it was denied, my judgment and the record of my personal experience with the committee is that our group, particularly including Dr. Seamans, has done a splendid job for the administration. The committee is clearly in a runaway mood. My information is that they have little following in the Congress and that the story will be entirely different when we come to the Appropriations Committee. In any event, I believe I can assure you that NASA personnel have not so conducted themselves as to cause the type of hearing now being conducted."
COLLINS: Why do you think Mr. Webb sent this letter to Kenneth O'Donnell?
SEAMANS: Oh, because the White House was very troubled. In the history of, I think it's the Congressional History of the Space Program that Tiger Teague had written or authorized, there was a discussion, in that book, as to my own position on this, and the fact that I nearly got fired for that day's hearing. It's right in there.
COLLINS: Is that true? Did that question come up?
SEAMANS: Not with me. Clearly Kenny O'Donnell went to the Bureau of the Budget and said, "Hey, this thing is getting out of hand here. We're getting all kinds of--TV news, stuff in the papers, magazines, here we're trying to make a decision on what to do, and this is getting ahead of us." The Director of the Budget would be the person that they would go to, to get into the management of NASA, including the presentation of this budget information to the Congress. In those days, that was again the role that BOB played. "As suggested by the Bureau of the Budget, I've gone through four volumes." He didn't do that just because he wanted to.
COLLINS: But I'm curious why this went to Mr. O'Donnell rather than to someone else in the White House.
SEAMANS: Well, you didn't get in to see the President unless you went through Kenny O'Donnell. He was numero uno staff, when it came to really controlling the President's day. Clearly, if the President didn't do that on his own. I mean, clearly the President was a little stirred up by this and said, "Hey, Kenny, what the hell's going on there at NASA?" There wasn't any question about that.
COLLINS: Then he probably got on the phone to Mr. Webb and--
SEAMANS: I think he got on the phone to BOB and Dave Bell, and asked them, "Is NASA doing a responsible job up there on the Hill?" And in turn, Dave Bell then went to Webb and said. "We've heard some disconcerting things about some of the testimony. You'd better look it over and give me a report on it. Or give Kenny O'Donnell a report on it. He's troubled."
COLLINS: Okay. I wanted to get a sense of how that worked. Well, things are happening very quickly. Let's jump ahead to the next document here, which is the Johnson memo to Kennedy, dated April 28th.
SEAMANS: Okay. That was of course preceded by the April 20th memorandum that Kennedy sent to Johnson.
COLLINS: Yes, I'm sorry.
SEAMANS: Which just said, "Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space or by a trip around the moon or by a rocket to land on the moon? Is there any other space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win? I've asked Jim Webb, Dr. Wiesner, Secretary McNamara and other responsible officials to cooperate with you fully. I'd appreciate a report on this at the earliest possible moment." At the beginning of his review I really wasn't directly involved. The Vice President had a number of meetings to discuss this whole matter, and I didn't go to any of them.
This is now from Lyndon Johnson for the President, April 28th. "Reference is to your April 20th memorandum. A detailed survey has not been completed. The examination will continue. Among those who participate in our deliberations have been, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, General Schriever, Admiral Hayward, Chick Hayward, von Braun, the Deputy Administrator and other top officials of NASA, Abe Hyatt, the Special Assistant to the President on Science and Technology, that's Wiesner, representatives of the Bureau of the Budget, and three outstanding non-government citizens of the general public, George Brown of Brown and Root, Texas, Donald Cook, American Electric Power, and Frank Stanton of CBS.
The following general conclusions are that, largely due to their concerted effort and their earlier emphasis upon the development of a large rocket engine, the Soviets are ahead in world prestige obtained through impressive technological accomplishments. The U.S. has greater resource than the USSR, etc. The Country should be realistic and recognize that other nations, regardness of their appreciation of our idealistic values, will tend to align themselves with a country which they believe will be the world leader. The U.S. can if it will firm up its objectives and employ its resources with a reasonable chance of attaining world leadership in space. If we don't make a strong effort now, the time will soon be reached when the margin of control over space and other men's minds through space accomplishment will have swung so far on the Russian side that we will not be able to catch up." I hadn't heard that one before.
"Even those areas in which the Soviets already have the capability to be first and are likely to improve upon such capability, the U.S. should make aggressive efforts, as the technological gains as well as the international rewards are essential steps in gaining leadership. Manned exploration of the moon, for example, is not only an achievement with great propaganda value, but is essential as an objective, whether or not we are first in its accomplishment. The American public should be given the facts as to how we stand in the space race." I would say they had, really.
"More resources and more effort need to be put into our space program as soon as possible." Then he has a series of Q and A which I won't go through, like how much will it cost, and are we working 24 hours a day, if not, why. And building large boosters, should we put more emphasis on nuclear, chemical, liquid, solid and so on? Are we making maximum efforts? Are we achieving necessary results? We're neither making maximum effort nor achieving results necessary, if this country is to reach a position of leadership."
TAPE 2, SIDE 2
SEAMANS: I would be willing to bet ten to one odds that Ed Welch wrote, that at least the draft of it, not to take away from the Vice President, but it sould like Ed Welch's style of writing.
COLLINS: Clearly what comes out very prominently in that memo is the space program as a means for influencing the international situation, as an elment of prestige. Had you, to this point, had any frank discussions with Mr. Webb or others about this questions of internal implications?
SEAMANS: Yes, we had all kinds of copies of poster and articles that we pciked up in Indonesia and all around the world, showing how the Soviets were exploiting their accomplishments in space. We didn't need to really sit down and talk too much about it. We all knew that this was going on. This was a very hectic period, and remember, while all this was going on, we still had to mind the store, as it were. I think very properly and wisely, Webb was doing what he had to do, to run the organization at the same time that he was involved in trying to present a responsible set of alternatives to the Vice President.
I don't remember ever sitting down with Jim Webb and Hugh Dryden and others and having what might be thought of as a strategy session on all this, where we reviewed all the different meetings that were going on and who was saying what to whom and so on. It was done much more, Jim working with Hugh, and the two of them going to the White House, and obviously advising we when they came back, and I was doing other things with Webb. At this time, the troika that Jim talks a lot about did not really exist. It was still evolving. And I was, you know, still putting most of my effort on trying to keep things moving on projets that had already been approved.
COLLINS: Maybe we passed over it, but the other thing I noticed in your reading was that Johnson does not yet answer Kennedy's essential question, what is the thing that we can do?
SEAMANS: Yes, that's right. He says that this is an interim report.
COLLINS: Just another impression. Why do you think von Braun was specifically included in that group, that the Vice President was asking to advise him? Why do you think von Braun was included in this group of individuals that the Vice President asked to help him?
SEAMANS: That's a little bit of Johnson's style, of course, let's get together the best minds and reason together, kind of attitude. Von Braun, was--by this time, there had already been a movie made and books written about him-- our big celebrity. Nobody had ever heard of Bob Gilruth at this time. There hadn't been any manned flights by then. You know, Bob was just a guy doing his job down at Langley Field. But if the Vice President had really wanted to get a view of what's involved in putting men into space, clearly Bob Gilruth should have been there at that meeting, too. But he wasn't that well-known. Schriever was obviously well-known, because of all that he had done with the ballistic missile program. Chick Hayworth ran Inyokern, and it was, I guess, understandable that they'd want to have somebody from the Navy as well as the Air Force there.
But as you know, there were two meetings held, with this sort of mixed group. I think they even had at the second one, if I'm not mistaken, they had some media type people there. Frank Stanton is one thing, but I think they had some more key Washington reporters in there. It was very amazing, you know, when you think of it, you know, along with the Secretary of Defense and the Vice President. But after the second meeting, and this is obviously what Jim Webb told me, he said, "Well, the President has finally decided that he's not converging on a answer as well as he would like." And he said to me and to Bob McNamara, 'Look, you two guys are going to have to carry this out. Let's you two get together and give me what you think the detailed steps ought to be." I never found that in writing anywhere, but that is what happened.
COLLINS: Just to quickly follow up the documentation we have here, we do have a letter from von Braun to the Vice President regarding this evaluation committee.
SEAMANS: Yes. Now, the thing that's a little surprising about this, on the outside it says, "Dr. Seamans would like you to see this and also Mr. Wyatt. Keep it close." Bill Fleming, worked with me. General Ostrander was in charge of the launch vehicle program, and working for him was the Marshall Center, so Wernher, this is in Wernher's writing, "Major General Don Ostrander, attached a copy of my letter to the Vice President which I prepared in response to the questions raised in the conference on 24 April. I hope it does not conflict with NASA's official reply." okay, this is the 29th, and the sort of amazing thing is that this is the 28th and yet there's a lot of stuff in here, I haven't really matched them up, but the question--"Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space?" Same question. The answer's not the same. So anyway, Ed Welch put together some answers without the benefit, I judge, from this letter from Wernher. They're all the same questions.
COLLINS: But Wernher apparently did not send this letter through channels before he sent it off to the Vice President.
SEAMANS: No. It doesn't look to me as though, it didn't came in directly to Webb it came in to Don Ostrander. This is my writing on here. It says, I can't read it, "Hyatt," I guess I wanted to send this to Abe Hyatt after I'd seen it, "Return to file"-- anyway, as you can see, there were a lot of cross-messages back and forth. So now we're about a week away from what I think was the definitive action. Now, some have said that even before the President received the Vice President's recommendation that he had decided that the only way to go was to embark on a manned landing program. That may be true, that he'd pretty much made up his mind, but I'm sure that before going ahead, he wanted to be sure that the responsible people had reached the same conclusion.
COLLINS: Let's follow some of that up, then. The next item we have here is number 27, which is dated May 5th, 1961, the date of the Alan Shephard flight. This is a letter from Webb to O.B. Lloyd.
SEAMANS: All right, you were asking about the May 5th memorandum for Mr. O.B. Lloyd, Bill Lloyd, who was at that time in charge of public affairs. "The Vice President just called and asked me to get with Mr. McNamara and prepare both a program for the President to send to Congress and a message for the President to use in the transmission of the program. The idea that the Vice President wants to submit these papers to the President on Monday, and that we are really preparing the drafts for the Vice President to consider and send along if he believes we have something, the kind of program the country needs. At the same time he suggested that you get with the proper man from the AEC and with Ed Welsh and begin to lay out the kind of public relations program that should be involved. When asked the Vice President, he himself wished to submit a message or make a speech or make any kind of statement, he said the decision on this would have to await the President's decision as to what he would do. However, I do feel he wanted a real build-up for the program and wantedd to find a way to let the country know he's solidly behind it himself." The letter speaks for itself, I guess. It is interesting that Jim wrote this not knowing how the meeting was going to come out with McNamara, but clearly anticipating a fairly fundamental and important decision was going to be made.
COLLINS: I think, following through on that, I think the next document we want to consider is this May 8th, 1961 memorandum, I believe it was sent to the Vice President as well.
SEAMANS: It was sent directly and solely to the Vice President.
COLLINS: From Mr. Webb and Mr. McNamara on recommendations for a national space program. It's really quite an extraordinary document. Did you have any role in preparing this material that went into this document?
SEAMANS: Yes, I certainly did. I'm well aware of how it was arrived at and so on. On Saturday morning, the 6th of May, Mr. Webb, Abe Hyatt and I went over to McNamara's office, to discuss the charge that had been received from the Vice President, and McNamara had with him Ros (Roswell) Gilpatric, and a person named John Rubel. John Rubel worked for Harold Brown. He was the deputy of DDR&E for Space, and in particular he'd been working on some of the newly discovered information about the Soviet intermediate range ballistic missiles that were just being deployed, all targeted on Europe, which was very highly classified at that time.
So when we met, first it was a question of laying out what NASA wanted or recommended, and what the Department of Defense recommended. I think that we went first, and we presented a chart showing our various programs. But clearly the emphasis was first and foremost on the Apollo manned lunar landing, and there was quite a discussion of the lunar landing, centered around whether it was too short range a goal, and McNamara was the one who raised the issue whether the Soviets could proceed immediately to a lunar landing, leaving us announcing a program and then the Soviets doing it within a year or two.
We explained that we didn't think the Soviets had that capability, from what we'd seen. They'd have to build a whole new booster. And I mentioned some of the other things that would have to be done. We felt that we had a 50-50 chance, of proceeding the Soviet if we went for the lunar landing, whereas we would not have a 50-50 chance of proceeding the Soviets if we went for the circumlunar, which they could probably do with the capability they already.
But McNamara kept pressing the issue of whether we shouldn't embark on a planetary program, and Webb kept referring to me on some of these technical operational type issues, and I said I just didn't think that we were in any position whatsoever to take that on as an objective. I won't go through all the reasons here, as to why we couldn't do it, but clearly even today it's a question of whether we can take it on. Twenty-eight years ago, there was no question in my mind that that would have been a foolhardy objective for the country.
We then went through some of the other things that didn't really interest the Department of Defense too much. We felt we ought to beef-up the Ranger program, for example. Somewhere in these papers I've got a list of the supplemental. The supplemental was the order of 700 million dollars, and we had the budget break out which we ran through them with McNamara. There wasn't any question about it in their minds, if we felt that's what we needed, that's what we ought to do.
They then trotted out their agenda, which to be centered almost entirely around the need to develop solid motors, that they felt they needed quick reaction, for strategic purposes. The solid motor was going to be the wave of the future easier to store, easier to operate, no need to top off the oxygen as with an Atlas missile. So they wanted to take on the responsibility for developing a 260 inch diameter solid motor, and we weren't interested in doing that. We did not want to use solids for the Saturn. So we agreed, they ought to go ahead.
But then came the question of the report itself, and McNamara outlined his version, that he'd had written in the Department of Defense, largely under the aegis of John Rubel. This gave a lot of the intelligence information that they had at the time on what the Soviets were doing, and indicated quite a few things that they felt ought to be done to structure American industry to be more competitive. Of course, that caused us to sit up and take notice as we. We hadn't seen this report.
McNamara said he felt that it would be very easy to take our recommendations and theirs and fold it into this report, which would then give a better overview of the situation vis-a-vis the Soviets without having had a chance to look at it, since McNamara recommended it and we didn't have very much time left to write such a report, Jim Webb agreed. And then McNamara suggested that John Rubel and I have the responsibility to take that report and put it in final form to be delivered to the Vice President, and that he McNamara and Jim Webb would obviously sign it when it was finished on Monday morning before sending it to the Vice President. Well, that's the way the meeting ended. The first order of business was to read the report. I hadn't read it, as I said.
COLLINS: Did NASA come to the meeting with any kind of draft statement of how they--to work with as well?
SEAMANS: That's a good question. I think that was our mistake. You know, we had the kind of material that we'd been going over all morning, that had sort of grown up over time, budgetary kinds of information, a budget line item and then the rationale for it, and another budget line item, and we had that kind of material, but we didn't have draft report that would have been suitable for submission to the Vice President or the President. And anyway, when I saw this report and read it through, I was very troubled.
COLLINS: What was the primary purpose of the report?
SEAMANS: An assessment of the Soviets, and that didn't bother me, because after all, it was intelligence information and from what I knew, it was accurate. What bothered me was the discussion of what to do about it. It was not written in terms of what the program ought to be because that hadn't been decided. It was written in the context of say our industrial posture and the fact that the government had allowed industry to proliferate to too great an extent. In other words, there were about ten companies fabricating aircraft and missiles and that was felt to be too many.
An objective the report, recommended winnowing them out and selecting the three or four that could really compete. The report advised contracting over time, not with ten companies but with two or three or four stalwarts. There was a lot of philosophical stuff in there about the excellent being the enemy of the good. But the there is a theory that you don't always want to be doing the best possible job because that involves striving and spending too much time on non essentials.
I knew John Rubel reasonably well by then and this was his philosophy of how to get more mileage out of our industrial capability. His philosophy was that we were "behind" not just because we'd picked the wrong objectives, but that our industry, our whole industrial system was set up in an unrealistic way, so that the free enterprise had gone too far and the government had to take a stronger role, by having fewer centers of excellence, and even then of not allowing contracts to be written that caused people to stretch too far, you see what I mean. Well, I knew what he was talking about but I felt that this document should not have to carry that kind of baggage. We needed more time to consider such senstive issues some of which I sharpley disagreed with. They didn't belong in the report.
COLLINS: It sounds like a strategic assessment of the Soviets, then laying out how we should organize ourselves to meet this situation. How specifically did it address the issues of space, do you recall? It sounds like it's really prepared for a different purpose.
SEAMANS: Yes, it was.
COLLINS: And at best space would have been a peripheral kind of issue in the report.
SEAMANS: This whole first part of the report that I have here in my hands, this is the material we brought. You know, for example, these are the budget items and the dollar amounts. This is the stuff that I had with me. okay, national space policy. This is the kind of thing it started with. "The recommendations made in the preceding section apply to the existence of national space goals and objectives towards which these and other projects are aimed. Such goals must be formulated in the context of a national policy with respect to undertakings in space. It's the purpose of this section to highlight our thinking concerning the direction that such national policy needs to take, and to present a backdrop against which more specific goals, objectives and detailed policies should in our opinion be formulated. Projects in space may be undertaken for any one of four principal reasons. They may be aimed at gaining scientific knowledge. Some in the future will be of commercial or chiefly civilian value. Several current programs are of potentially military value." Then that's been deleted. "Finally, some space projects may be undertaken chiefly for reasons of national prestige."
COLLINS: Now, what's interesting about laying out these four reasons, to me, is that national prestige is separated out as something different from achievements in the commercial area or the scientific area. Those have no real coin in the international situation. Is that the way your thinking was proceeding?
SEAMANS: "Space projects for prestige. All large scale space projects require the mobilization of resources on a national scale. They require the development and successful application of the most advanced technologies. They call for skill from management, centralized control and unflagging pursuit of long range goals. Dramatic achievements in space therefore symbolize the technological power and organizing capacity of the nation. It's for reasons such as these that major achievements in space contribute to national prestige. This nation needs to make a positive decision to pursue space projects aimed at enhancing national prestige," underlined. "Our attainments are a major element in the international competition between the Soviet system and our own. The non-military, non-commercial, non-scientific civilian projects such as lunar and planetary exploration are in this sense part of the battle along the fluid front of the cold war. Such undertakings may affect our military strength only indirectly if at all, but they have an increasing effect upon our national posture." Now, this is the material that was already prepared when we came in.
COLLINS: So that reflects John Rubel's thinking primarily.
SEAMANS: Yes. I assume McNamara had seen it as well. "It's vital to establish specific missions aimed mainly at national prestige. Such planning must be aimed at both the near term and the long range. An immediate task is to specify long range goals to describe the missions to be accomplished, to define and improve management mechanisms, to select the launch vehicles--the spacecraft--the essential building blocks. The long term task is to manage national resources from a national level to make sure our goals are met."
Now, this incidentally ties in a little bit with our friend, you know, THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH. (McDougall) I hadn't thought of that until reading it right now. "It's absolutely vital that national planning be sufficently detailed to define the building blocks in an orderly integrated way. It's absolutely vital that national management be equal to the task of focusing resources, particularly scientific and engineering manpower, on the essential building blocks. It's particularly vital that we do not continue to make the error of spreading ourselves too thin, and expect to solve our problems through the mere appropriation and expenditure of additional funds." I won't go through this. I think you can get the flavor of it. All I can say is, you should have seen this when I first read it.
COLLINS: So you had your initial meeting with the group, McNamara, Webb, yourself, John Rubel and others. Then you got ahold of the copy of the report.
SEAMANS: Yes, I had the early afternoon to go over it. By 4 o'clock, I was in the Pentagon. I realized I had to speak to Webb, because I was appalled by this document, because as you can see they were for coercering industry if you will. I won't say taking over industry, but they were going to control the industrial complex in a manner that would certainly have represented a very major change in policy.
Jim, by then, was in the throes of planning for Alan Shepard's triumphal day in Washington on Monday, and he was concerned with all kinds of things like bringing the family down from New Hampshire, and planning the White House ceremony, and in the motorcade to the Hill. He had to work on whether there would be a special message by Alan Shepard to the Congress, and the kind of luncheon affair there would be at the State Department. He was suddenly immersed in all of those things.
So I finally reached him. I said, "Jim, we've got a terrible problem with this report. I think it would be much better to start all over again." And he said, "No way we can't do that. I've agreed with McNamara we'll use the report, and it's up to you to work with John Rubel and revise it until you consider it to be satisfactory." So anyway, I started to work, and I didn't do it all by myself. Let's see, I guess Abe Hyatt had a hand. I think at one point I had Abe Silverstein over to look at some parts of it. Shapley came over that evening from the Bureau of the Budget. He came over with the official budget numbers that were to go in the report. I don't think I have them here. They don't seem to be attached. But anyway, the BOB was not about to have us entirely on our own put in the budget numbers.
Here we are. This is sort of interesting, because it shows what we were talking about earlier, namely, the supplemental that came out of the March meeting was actually 125.7 million. I thought it was 130. Then the add-on that came as a result of this report was an additional 549 million, getting us to a total of 1.784 for fiscal '62. Starting with an 1109.6 that was Eisenhower's. And this has all taken place within about four months. But the implications of this are not what you have in '62 but what's going to happen in '63, '64, '65.
Okay, so John Rubel was a very stubborn person. I knew because I had a lot of dealings with him. This was the first one I'd had where I was really trying to negotiate some word changes. I subsequently, later, in the following few years, I had to negotiate quite a few memoranda of understanding with him, and it was always the same. You had to argue about each paragraph, each sentence, even key words. And I still was not satisfied with the document when I talked to Jim Webb I would guess some time Sunday afternoon, and he said, "okay." As soon as he had had dinner with the Shepards and made sure that they were properly taken care of, he would come over to the Pentagon.
I can't remember exactly what time, but it was on the order of 9:30 to 10:00 when he arrived on the scene, and in these phone calls I'd attempted to tell him why I felt that even a lot of the thoughts in the report were most unfortunate, and not something that we would want to sign. What happened between 9:30 and roughly 1:00 in the morning was one of the great experiences of my life, to see Jim Webb, who hadn't had a chance to read this report, start through it, page by page with Rubel there, and tosee him negotiate changes, clearly to the benefit of the report. He'd say to John, "Now, can you really make that statement at this time?" Or " Don't you think it would be better from the standpoint of the public, if this ever is published in The New York Times, we don't expect it will, but to have it stated this way," or " Don't you think the President would prefer to have it oriented a little bit this way?"
And we went through the report, and thanks to Jim a lot of things got deleted, and it came out to be a report that first and foremost, had in it the program what we had agreed to. That was well defined at the beginning, and it wasn't too different really from some of the things that had already been written on the subject. Some of the philosophy had been toned down so that it wasn't too bad. And then there was a classified report, and then there were the budget numbers from OMB, and so about 1:00 to 1:30 the job was done.
There were still three secretaries there, as we got up to leave, Jim Webb was with Rubel, and he said, "How are these girls going to get home?" You know, Rubel shrugged, so Jim went out there and asked them, and there was one of them that really didn't have any way of getting home, and so Jim Webb said, "Well, we'll wait here and I'll drive you home," and that we did. Jeez, I guess it was about 2:30 in the morning, we finally were out somewhere in the outskirts of Washington. As we approached this gal's house, it was pouring rain, and Jim said, as she started to get out, "Relax, everything's going to be all right. No point in your getting soaking wet. Let's just sit here and relax a few minutes." Pretty soon the rain stops and the gal gets out.
It was a remarkable display of a Southerner, you know, doing what they're supposed to do, being gallant. The next day was not an easy day. I got back to the Pentagon about 7:30 to take a look at all the different pages that had been retyped, making sure they really had made the changes. And well before 9 o'clock, it was in a position for Webb and McNamara to sign. It was submitted to the Vice Presidesnt that morning. Following the White House ceremony, and the trip to the Hill, which I didn't attend I was at the State Department luncheon hosted by the Vice President. When he got up from the chair to leave to go to the White House and then on to Southeast Asia, he had an envelope in his hand, with the report inside. So that's the brief history.
TAPE 3, SIDE 1
COLLINS: After a break, previously we've been discussing a very important document dated May 8, 1961, in which, under Mr. Webb's and Mr. McNamara's signature, to the Vice President on recommendations for our national space program. Let me just be clear about this session. You had spent, after the initial meeting, you spent a significant amount of time looking over the document. You and John Rubel then began to sit down and try to work out a document acceptable to you both. Mr. Webb joined you. Did anyone else participate in that final preparation of the document?
SEAMANS: Well, in the course of the Sunday, I guess Saturday afternoon was spent primarily in reviewing the document, probably with Abe Hyatt looking it over with me, but Sunday was sort of the action day, when we had to recommend changes, add our own material. I know Abe Silverstein was involved, possibly others, because I'm not sure that all the action took place inside the Pentagon. Maybe Abe went back to NASA Headquarters and got some people involved there. But I know I was involved sitting at the Pentagon, either reading the material and talking to Rubel about changes or looking at other material that was provided or doing some writing myself. I know it was some time during that period that Willis Shapley came over with several people from the Bureau of the Budget, with the figures, budgetary figures that were included as Appendix C of the report. Probably there were other people involved from the Pentagon as well. I know John Rubel had an assistant whose name I forget. So it was not just, two guys sitting across a table from each other negotiating word for word. It wasn't really until the middle of the evening, Sunday evening, that we had what might be thought of as the final go-round on it, and that involved John Rubel, Mr. Webb and myself, period, the three of us were there, the secretaries sitting outside waiting to type any changes.
COLLINS: One of the tabs to this report that went to the Vice President was entitled "The Soviet Programming Capabilities." Is that something that was part of the original report?
SEAMANS: Yes. I think, a lot of that was based on classified information. I don't remember whether they declassified--you turned it up so readily, now I can't find it, let's see--
COLLINS: I was just looking at the table of contents.
SEAMANS: Here we go--that's the U.S. Space Program. Soviet is 17. okay, so that was two pages, of which maybe 50 percent of it was declassified. "Attachment A depicts the Soviet space program in considerable detail. It's separated from this report for security reasons but it was avaiable to the key policy makers concerned with the US space program. It was important not only because of what it told about the Soviet program in space but because it revealed the caliber of the competition was up against. This was an important arena of the cold war." After a big blank, it said, "The U.S. did not undertake a corresponding planning effort at the national level until much later."
Here's one, I think quite important statement. "The U.S. space program in the past three years reflects this situation in many ways. We have been forced to design with inadequate margins for error or deficiencies in thrust. We have been forced to develop elaborate and often unreliable new ways to cram complex equipments in a very small space. Our results have, despite many excellent achievements, been disappointing in many important ways. Nearly half of our attempted launchings failed to achieve orbit." Then there's a big blank and then, "It is prudent to suppose the next decade will be marked with Soviet achievements in space which will be well planned, well directed and executed with deliberateness and skill." Then there's a big blank again. In hindsight we were giving the Soviets more credit than they deserved.
COLLINS: Was there any indication based on the intelligence estimates contained in this report, that you recall, on whether the Soviets were planning a manned expedition to the moon?
SEAMANS: There's no evidence they were. As a matter of fact, except for some of the rantings of Khrushchev, and the appearance of a very large space booster, I've never seen any evidence they were planning to. I've never seen anything that looked to be official that indicated that this was an objective that they were attempting to carry out. Even that large booster that turned out to be a fiasco for them wasn't necessarily for the manned lunar landing. It could have been for circumlunar. At that time they did not have hydrogen fuel. They were using kerosene, which has considerably less specific impulse, and as a consequence, requires a much larger vehicle.
This vehicle and associated facilities they were building, it were interesting to observe in construction at Tyratam. A big building came first, and then a launch pad, and then all of a sudden one day we got the overhead photography of the vehicle itself, which was quite awesome. Then we got pictures of it on the pad. And then there was an explosive that did a lot of damage. Then they built another vehicle, and refurbished the pad, and I think they got the vehicle up in the air by a few hundred feet when that vehicle exploded. As far as I know, they've never resurrected that project again. So our thinking on their planning was entirely conjecture, based on what they'd already done, and with very good data on the performance of all the vehicles they were building. We had, through a variety of sources, excellent performance information on every single one of their boosters, and this resulted not only from the work that they were doing internal to the Soviet Union but also the launchings that took place over the Pacific.
COLLINS: Performance information includes?
SEAMANS: How many pounds could they take into particular orbits.
COLLINS: Nothing relating to the reliability of the system?
SEAMANS: You know, we were 50 percent and so the implication that they were 100, they weren't--they had their failures too. Let's see, at that time, we had limited data I guess at that time. Later on, we developed much better information on the reliability of their vehicles. What I previously read you about, our need to cram so much electronics in such small space, that's John Rubel. That's the kind of stuff, a lot of it in the vernacular, that I didn't think ought to be signed by McNamara and Webb. All of it was necessarily valid, nor did I think it was well written.
COLLINS: It seems like it's the results of two things. One, that because of the limitations of our weight-lifting capability, we were trying to get as much as possible and be as sophisticated as possible with the weight and volume that we had available, and the other is that there is a certain tendency on the part of the American approach to engineering and research that encouraged that kind of cramming.
SEAMANS: Yes. There's an element of truth in it, I must say, that we and this is where the old saying "the best is the enemy of the good" comes in. You know, we try to put too much sophisticated equipment aboard, because we're trying to make stuff that's sort of super-good, super-unique, super-compact and so on, and we ought to be satisfied with stuff that's good enough for the job. It's true, in any project, when you've got technical people involved, at some point you have to say, "Stop, we're going to go with this the way it is." We're not going to keep making improvements and improvements which do two things, one, delay the time when you can get the mission off, but also, as we found out say in the Ranger program cause unexpected failures. When we had six unsuccessful Rangers before we got one that photographed the moon. We found that the way things were organized at the Jet Propulsion Lab, there were technical people who felt that if they didn't have "a good enough piece of equipment in the spacecraft, they could put in a "better one," without telling anybody. The new one in its own might really be better but it would interfere with something else that you hadn't expected and you'd get into trouble. So it's not just the problem of making things better, it's the question of having a much stricter protocol on any modifications that are made.
COLLINS: For the record, I wanted to get your response to the way this final document evolved. I found it interesting as you were talking about this that Mr. Webb went along with the idea of using a Department of Defense document as the basis for this presentation to the Vice President and eventually to the President.
SEAMANS: Well, it was remarkable. You have to view it in the context that we had a pretty full plate. He had an extremely full plate that particular weekend. It was one of the first meetings with Mr. McNamara, and Jim had a lot of confidence in Mr.McNamara and felt that it was something that McNamara felt strongly about, and consequently it was probably a good place to start. Under normal circumstances, there would have been a question of how much McNamara himself had actually gone over the report. We'll never know the answer.
COLLINS: I suppose in part the document answers this, but I still don't have a good feel for it, based on our discussion so far, and that is, how did DOD see the NASA accelerated program augmenting the Defense effort?
SEAMANS: Now, you raise an excellent point because there were a number of times when we ended up in reports, and even before Congress, justifying what we were doing in the space program, NASA space program, as an aid to national security, and Webb--for example, before we made the decision as to whether to have a lunar orbit rendezvous or not, before it became of a hassle with the White House, Webb went out of his way to go to Ros Gilpatric to have the DOD take a look at whether direct a scent, earth orbit rendezvous, or lunar orbit rendezvous would have more benefit, which one would have the most benefit to national security. And the answer came back, "Look, we're responsible for national security. Sure, you've got your program, we've agreed to your program, but don't try to put it under the umbrella of national security." Because if it had been otherwise, then McNamara would not have wanted it to be run by anybody other than the Department of Defense. McNamara was very clear on that.
COLLINS: But there's a certain sense implied in the document here that by enhancing U.S. prestige, it's going to be beneficial to the Department of Defense.
SEAMANS: Well, I think that's one of the few places, we didn't go over that just before lunch, and the credibility of our total technology program was viewed as enhancing the credibility of our nuclear deterrent, say. I think that's implied in here. I can't remember how it's worded, but that was not a strong issue, I would say in McNamara's mind.
COLLINS: Clearly some kind of relationship between the two programs was on President Kennedy's mind. He was asking Mr. Webb and Mr. McNamara to sit down together and make a determination about who would be responsible for what, and to live by it.
SEAMANS: Yes. Now, another thought that comes to mind is, this is some years hence, we decided to start what might be thought of as an oversized Mercury program using Titan to get some operational experience with rendezvous and docking before the Apollo hardware was finished, or I should say, was not finished but was ready for flight.
When Gemini was reasonably far along, I got a call from Mr.McNamara one Sunday asking if I would join him the following day for a visit, both to the Dyna-Soar project at Boeing, as well as to the Gemini project in Texas. By then the Space Task Group had moved there. I said I'd be happy to, and not to get into the details of it, but it was one of the few times I ever had to sit and chat with McNamara, and what he did as a result of that trip was to cancel Dyna-Soar, and in part he did it because he felt that if there was any rationale for man in space for military purposes, that the Gemini, which made use of the Titan booster, and could be turned into sort of a Blue Gemini for the Bluesuiters, if you will.
A little later on Webb and I went to McNamara and Gilpatric and asked them if they had any specific projects that they would like to see run on the Gemini, and as a result of that, I was paired with Brock McMillan who was the Under Secretary of the Air Force, and head of all of the highly classified work that the Air Force does in space--he and I were made co-chairmen of the Gemini Review Committee. It was very helpful to NASA, I must say, because it permitted us jointly to review the Titan program which was having its problems, but on a subsequent part of it, McMillan finally came in with a project he wanted us to run, which involved a very high resolution camera, and we did run it. That got into all kinds of classification problems, and I'm afraid Brock McMillan got himself at cross-purposes with the DOD on it. Anyway it didn't affect us.
But the point is, I think, that it was very hard to really find anything in the NASA program that you could point to where you could say, this is really joint, this is really something that's going to be used immediately by the Department of Defense. They didn't have any use for the Saturn vehicles. They were too big for anything they wanted. Clearly, to use the word spinoff, there was a DOD spinoff from nearly everything that we were doing. We were learning how to run more reliable missions, with all of the stabilization devices we were involved in, with the satellites, a whole bunch of different areas of endeavor, just as the aeronautics program before. So in space, it had a long termbenefit for national security. But no one specific project was looked at as beneficial, let's say, ahead of time.
Another angle on this subject was, the way the NACA had been set up in the old days was that they took on whatever research they felt could be important to aeronautics on a long term basis. This included oftentimes taking a military plane and putting different wings on it, things of that sort. They had advisors from the military on how to run the research program. I remember when this came up during the period when McNamara and Webb were not working so closely together as they did at the start. When there was an area that we felt had importance to the military, McNamara would say, "Look, if that's the way it is, we ought to pay for it, and we'll set this up so that when NASA takes on a study of an airplane, let's say the F-1a11 folding wings might operate better, that that's just fine, you keep on doing that, but it will be approved by us before you start, we will monitor it and we will provide all the funding." And we said, "There's no way we're going to operate that way. We're not a job shop. When we're doing research work, it's done by our people because they themselves believe that it's important, and if you shift it around and have a military contingent that are going to come in and tell you what's important and what isn't and nickel and dime that's just not the way we can or should operate."
COLLINS: Well, I think we'll want to return to the scene of NASA and the Department of Defense relations later on, but I think that rounds out our discussion of this memorandum. I was wondering whether, you know, you went through this process of revising Rubel's report, preparing this memorandum in fairly short order. After it was submitted, did you have any feelings like, gee, I wish there was something else we would have included or deleted, or some other area we could have worked on a little harder, or any of those kinds of after-thoughts?
SEAMANS: No, I think we looked at the program side that if you trace it through, an awful lot of it, could have found in the first budget submissions made to Eisenhower. Obviously some of it was expanded in dollars, because we were moving ahead faster, but I think that NASA was generally--to say excitement is probably the wrong word. I mean, it just almost blew our minds to think that suddenly we had the responsibility for this gigantic undertaking, and we weren't disappointed because there wasn't anything to request. I mean, we had plenty to chew on.
I think the next thing after getting this program approved by the White House was having the President deliver a special State of the Union message on this subject. And that one of the items he was going to present was the expanded space program. I think he went up with five or six different items. The question was, what was he going to say specifically about the space program? His speech writers, of course, were hard at work, and as soon as they had a draft of just the space part of it, it came over for our review, and the two elements I remember were the cost of the lunar landing, and the date for the lunar landing.
Webb felt NASA ought to have some reasonable budget flexibility in there, and that was the reason for 20 billion dollar figure even though our own detailed estimates added up to about half that amount. The other draft issue was to elimate the '67 date, as being much too specific to put in the world arena, but rather to talk more generally about the decade. Webb's view was that the whole prestige of the United States shouldn't rest on a date as specific as 1967. This was concurred in. There wasn't too much argument actually as far as I know, at the White House, on either one of those issues.
So on the day that the President went to Congress was the time that we were bringing in fairly senior people, not all in the government, to talk about how we should mobilize to get going on Apollo. On that particular day, Joe Charyk came over. He was the Under Secretary of the Air Force, and I know we sat there listening to the address on the radio, when Kennedy talked about the space program. But in that period of time, we brought in people like Rube Mettler, of TRW, one of the individuals really responsible for the ICBM program. We brought in Art Malcarney, who had been the senior person I dealt with in RCA. He was executive vice president for defense products. And a variety of other people to come in to discuss with us the in same kind of organization that Keith Glennan's up special committee reviewed when he first organize NASA.
COLLINS: This is preceding or after President Kennedy appeared before Congress?
SEAMANS: On no, we started right in. Once we knew Kennedy was going to present it, we didn't wait until he made the speech. I mean, we got going. One of the really gut wrenchers, of course, was, who was going to run the lunar landing? How are we going to manage the Apollo program? Jim Webb felt very strongly that we should not turn NASA upside down, if you will, by having a big in-line project, people who would be doing nothing but working on the Apollo program to the detriment of everything else. But at the same time, he recognized that we had to bring in somebody of considerable ability, or to have somebody, somebody of considerable ability had to run it, and of course one of the questions was, did we have such a person within NASA? I think I may have gone through a little bit of this before.
COLLINS: I don't think we discussed this before.
SEAMANS: Okay. Well, the people within were--Abe Silverstein would have loved to have run it, and who was running the total space for NASA at that time. There was also Wernher von Braun. Outside there were people like General Schriever, who had run things of this complexity, but we knew that Schriever was one of those who had, during the interregnum and so on, had been pushing awfully hard to have the Air Force take over missions of this sort, so we were a little leary about him.
There was also Levering Smith, who worked with Red Rayburn running the Polaris program, and we had heard that they were a team of two but that the person who really day to day ran the technical endeavor was Levering Smith. He'd been a captain for a long time and we heard he was sort of dissatisfied and he might be available. So that was a real live prospect in our minds.
Then, of course, we thought of people who were not in government. But I remember, Webb dropping by one rather late night. I was in my office. I don't know who hatched this idea, but we sat talking about Wernher von Braun, and after all, he'd had considerable success at Peenemunde, and maybe we ought to bring him to headquarters, and the more we talked the more infatuated we got with the idea, and the next morning Hugh Dryden, who had been away, got together and with us, and Webb turned to me and said, "Bob, why don't you tell Hugh about our recent thinking on running Apollo?" I had a sixth sense that told me Hugh wasn't going to react very well, so anyway, I suggested it, and Hugh just sat there for what seemed like an eternity, probably five seconds, and he said, "Well, if you and Jim want to run it that way, that's fine with me, and I'll take early retirement." That was, of course, the end of our thinking on that possibility.
You know, we recognized that Wernher and Abe Silverstein, for example, didn't get along terribly well, for a wide variety of reasons. I guess in the cold light of day both Jim and I also felt that it would be taking on quite a bit to bring Wernher up to Headquarters to run this kind of an operation, and in part I guess we, in the relization that a group that had really operated on the arsenal type of principle with a wonderful team of technical and scientific people, wouldn't really industry except for job shop. This was not the way we wanted to run the program, and Wernher would find it very hard to run something any other way.
COLLINS: What were Hugh Dryden's other concerns?
SEAMANS: Well, it's hard to describe all his thinking. I'd say probably the bottom line was that Hugh had very strong allegiance to the old NACA operations, the Langleys and Lewises and so on and the way they operated, and he always looked at the groups that we had brought in, particularly I think the Huntsville group, as the big time operators whose philosophy of management and whose objectives were quite different from the NACA and its heritage. I think he saw also that there would be some very difficult problems arise if Wernher really had a free rein running things in the country, charming as Wernher could be.
So anyway, I'm not putting this in any very good consecutive order, but we really thought more and more that Levering Smith would be a wonderful choice, a very sound almost unobtrusive person but greatly admired in and out of the Department of Defense. I can't quite remember how Jim went about it. I think maybe Jim talked to Red Rayburn about it, that we'd like to have a chat with Levering Smith. Rayburn couldn't say no, though he emphasized that Leevering was doing very important work and I guess Jim probably pointed out that we did understand he might possibly be leaving the Navy. Anyway, the remarkable thing was that, if within ten days, Captain Levering Smith became Admiral Levering Smith, and there he stayed working for the Navy on Polaris and subsequent programs until he retired from the government.
COLLINS: To backtrack a little bit, after this memo that we discussed at lunch, the McNamara-Webb memo to the Vice President was submitted, when did you get a sense that President Kennedy was going to support the manned lunar project?
SEAMANS: I would guess, in less than a week. I don't think we knew within a few days. It didn't take long, that's the important thing. For something like this, it was a rapid response.
COLLINS: Then you began to engage in these considerations of organization and doing the job.
SEAMANS: Yes. As you know, some of these things tend to go a little in parallel, but as we thought through individuals inside and outside of government, the person who came to my mind was Brainerd Holmes, because I knew Brainerd and what he'd done at RCA, pretty well. He had responsibility for the biggest project that RCA ever ran, the ballistic missile early warning system, with tremendously technical and logistical difficulties, setting stuff up in Tule, Greenland, and it was the toughest environment. But near Fairbanks, and in Scotland, and these were two different kinds of antenna systems, these institution involved massive kind of construction work, but also very high technology. And Malcarney knew by then what we were doing, organizationally, and Jim Webb had lot of respect for him. They got along just famously. Malcarney had come up through manufacturing, and he was tough, in the sense that if something had to be done, it got done.
I don't know if I mentioned this, but when I was working in RCA, there was a period of time when the Atlas ground system which RCA had responsibility for out at Vandenberg was not going very well, and Malcarney as a senior executive vice president went out and lived at Vandenberg for two months in a trailer to get the project going the way he thought it ought to be going. One day he called New Jersey to say that they needed a certain part, and he told a senior person there to "get the part and bring it out to me," he said. The man got the part all right but he couldn't believe he was supposed to actually personally take it out, and so he arranged to give it to somebody on an American Airline flight who would then give it to somebody at Los Angeles when the plane landed who would then take it to Malcarney, and unfortunately there was bad weather and the plane was diverted, so the part did not get there the next day, and that person at RCA no longer had a job. Period. I mean, it was as simple as that, the way Malcarney operated. But he was a very perceptive person.
Anyway, I suggested Brainerd Holmes and the logical thing was then for Webb to call Malcarney, and I guess maybe the two of us did together, and Malcarney said, "No, you don't mean it!" But then he said, "If you want to talk to him, I'll certainly arrange it. I don't think you can get him and I hope you don't." It was about three days later that Brainerd Holmes breezed into, breeze is the right word, the Metropolitan Club, at 6:30 one evening. We went upstairs and chatted over a drink or two and then went up and had dinner, and Jim Webb did an absolutely super job.
Brainerd had never met anybody quite like Jim Webb, and Jim was at his mind-stretching best, pointing out the importance of the program to the nation and the world and the role that Brainerd would play in it and so on, and Brainerd would try to argue about how important he was in other areas, what he was doing, and they argued it back and forth, and I remember halfway through the dinner, I remember Brainerd turning to me and saying, "This boss of yours is really something, isn't he?" I had a feeling maybe we'd get Brainerd. Anyway, Brainerd agreed he'd think about it, and he called me a day later. He said, "I came down because Malcarney told me to come, that I should go. I didn't have any intention of taking the job. I want you to know I'm really seriously thinking about it. I have now a few specific questions." And he accepted about two days later.
TAPE 3, SIDE 2
COLLINS: You've discussed most of the documents you have in your files here that are relevant to the discussion. There are a couple more. One of them is a memorandum from Webb to the Vice President on 5/23/61, a couple of days before President Kennedy addressed the Congress. Do you find that one?
SEAMANS: All right, the Vice President, right after he submitted the report went to Southeast Asia, and I think he did some other things. I think he went to India. Didn't he bring a camel driver back? Anyway, this is now from Jim Webb, "By way of brief report, as you return to Washington, let me set down the following. The President has approved the program you submitted with very few changes, and the message will go up on Wednesday. In working out this program and all the details involved there's been an absolutely splendid spirit of teamwork, not only with Ed Welsh but with the Defense Department and the AEC and Bureau of the Budget. Considerable interest has been expressed in this program by members of Congress, following your consultations with them and as I have followed up."
That's interesting because it shows that even before this report was submitted, Johnson had been talking to the Congress. "In preparing for the hearings on the original Kennedy submission," let's see, he's making it very clear that he and George Brown were extremely interested in having Rice University make a real contribution to the effort, "particularly in view of the fact that some research funds are now being spent at Rice and the resources of Rice have increased substantially and that some 3000 acres of land have been set aside by Rice for an important research installation." I'd forgotten this letter. That's really interesting.
COLLINS: He didn't waste any time, did he?
SEAMANS: "Therefore we have looked carefully at this situation, at the possible locations near the Houston Ship Canal or other accessible waterways. Texas offers an unusual opportunity this time due to the fact that Lloyd Berkner, chairman of the Space Science Board, is establishing a graduate research center in Dallas with the backing of Eric Johnson," Eric Johnson is spelled wrong, incidentally, "Cecil Green and others." They're the ones who started TRW. "In view of the fact that Senator Kerr and those interested with him in Arkansas and the Red River system have now pushed it to the point that it is opening up the whole area related to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and in many ways helping to provide development potential for Mississippi," gee, that's amazing, isn't it? It comes around to how he's going to work with the University of Chicago, a strong Northeast arrangement with Harvard, MIT, "and like institutions participating in some work, in the Southeast projects revolving around the research triangle of North Carolina, (in which Charlie Jonas as the ranking minority member on Congress's Appropriations Subcommittee will have an interest) and with the Southwest and the complex rounding up the situation."
Okay, so he was thinking--that was a broad sweep to all of that, "to get clearly before the country that this is a national effort; an appearance which will introduce the new programs to the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space will be made by Gilpatric, Seaborg and myself, all three sitting together at the witness table and each of us presenting a brief statement to start the discussion. I believe this is the kind of image of unity and drive in the executive branch that you would like to see. In all the work that's gone on while you have been doing such a great service in Southeast Asia, we've emphasized the important place you and the Space Council have occupied in pressing forward with the necessary decisions.
In order to discharge our obligation to give both the general public and the scientific community a report on the Shepard flight, we're having a session sponsored by NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the National Academy of Sciences in the State Department auditorium on June 6th. Secretary Connolly of the Navy is giving a lunch that day for Commander Shepard and Robert Gilruth. Would you like to give a lunch or join with me in giving a lunch to the scientists and others on the program? Generally we've tried to avoid getting into any large lunch but could have a small one right in the State Department for those actually on the program and perhaps one or two of the other leaders here that day." That's quite a remarkable document. I had it but I'd forgotten about it. So Jim Webb was ready with a broad program that would enlist major support on a national basis.
COLLINS: He lays out an interesting formula there, how he was going to work with the Congress, what was important in working with the Congress.
SEAMANS: Well, from my more technical operational standpoint, the thing you had to think about was, how are we going to, not just launch the boosters, but how are we going to build them and transport them and test them and so on. It did make sense, I think, to operate extensively along the Gulf Coast, and to make use of this Michoud plant in New Orleans. The knowledge of this possibility came to me first via Wernher von Braun. They made a very extensive survey of where we might assemble the first stages of Saturn I and Saturn V, and came in recommending a look at the old plant that was used during World War II by Higgins and then used by Chrysler in the Korean War for tanks, tank engines. The plant was 45 acres all under one roof. A really massive building, and it was right on a waterway.
Tey also came in with the thought that we might be able to have a test facility in Mississippi just across the Pearl River from Louisiana, use the inland waterway, and then from these barge all the rocket stages around to the Cape. At one point we even gave a little thought we could dig a canal, but that didn't last very long. We'd already been through some of this, you see, because we'd already had to have Huntsville connected, because some of the big rocket development was to be done there. We had to make use of the Tennessee and the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers to get the stages out of Huntsville. So even though there's certainly a strong, call it political element to this, there's also some real operational rationale for it.
The one thing that I was spared, I don't know whether I've mentioned this or not, was the selection of the site for the Space Task Group, which became the NASA Johnson Center. There was the offer from Rice, and as Jim said, isn't it wonderful that these 3000 acres could be made available? Well, it wasn't 3000 acres that were already owned by Rice. These were private interests that were able to give this land to Rice for tax purposes, and then Rice in turn could make the land available to the government, and also with the planning, with all due respect to that land, there was nothing on it. I've got pictures of it with nothing but longhorns showing.
By the time we got very far along, the land all around that center had gone up in value by probably ten times, so the motives behind all this were purely altruistic. But Houston was a great place to go. Rice University is a top grade university, and they were very supportive, so I think it turned out to be a very good choice. But when it was pointed out that the Vice President was from Texas and Albert Thomas, who was chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was from Houston, and Congressman Tiger Teague was from another part of Houston, and he was number three on our Authorization Committee, I was glad I wasn't involved, because Hugh Dryden had to put together a team and do another survey which came in and said, "Houston is the place to go."
COLLINS: Was this kind of after the fact, in a sense?
SEAMANS: Well, I'm trying to remember whether there had been a-- I almost think that it was after the fact. I'm not quite sure of that point. But of course there were many times when I was testifying when these facts were before me, and I would point out that I was not involved in that decision, but it seemed to me it made very good sense to have it there, and I'd go through the kind of rationale I've just given you, which I think is valid.
COLLINS: I think, rather than follow through this point on the impact of President Kennedy's decision and the development of the program, I think we'll save that for a subsequent interview. I just want to add as a closing question here, whether you had any strong emotional or other reaction to President Kennedy's actual address or announcement of this? Here it was something that you'd worked towards for months. There was the high public tension and expectation. What were your feelings when this announcement was finally made, and there was a public consensus that you were going to go forward?
SEAMANS: Of course I was impressed with the language that was used, which was very, very elegant. "Now is the time to take larger strides," and so on. But I'd already pretty well crossed the bridge, from the standpoint of accepting the job to be done. The time we were talking about earlier today, when I felt I was getting into pretty dangerous waters testifying about going to the moon, I had gone home later in the day and told my wife, "I'd like to take a good long walk somewhere." We went up the hill right behind where we lived in Georgetown, with a park up at the top, and there happened to be a full moon. I remember looking up at that moon and wondering if I was crazy. But each step as we thought about it seemed to make sense, from the standpoint of my own personal experience.
I believed we could do it intellectually, but when I looked at the enormity of the job I wondered. But then the more we got into it, into the discussions and so on, the more it sort of became something that I accepted. Emotionally I felt we were going to give it a good go, and I felt very fortunate that I happened by chance to be there at the time when the country was going to embark on such a unique undertaking which happened to fit in with my own experience and background. So by the time the President made his talk, I'd already read it. I was very interested in listening to the presentation, because I wanted to see how the Congress reacted, and they seemed to give him appropriate applause at the right times. It appeared as though we were going to get the support to get started, at any rate. So by the time the President had his go before the Congress. I was reasonably matter of fact about it
COLLINS: Why don't we call it a day there.
SEAMANS: All right.
COLLINS: Thank you.