The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project|
The Kennedy Proposal for a Joint Moon
Sir Bernard Lovell, a professor at the
University of Manchester and Director of the Jodrell Bank radio
telescope facility, had been active in the international astronautics
community for many years. The Jodrell Bank observatory was scheduled
to play a key role in the Soviet-American communications satellite
experiments agreed to in Rome. During June and July 1963, Sir Bernard
was the guest of the Soviet Academy of Sciences on an unprecedented
tour, for a Western scientist, of the major optical and radio
observatories. In a letter to Dryden dated 23 July 1963, Lovell
described his visit:
During this time I was taken to
the major Soviet optical and radio observatories and to the deep
space tracking network, a station which has not so far been seen by
Western eyes or by many Soviet scientists so I was told, I mention
this at the beginning of this letter because it does seem to
underline the apparently genuine desire of the Academy to extend its
cooperation with the West.53
After describing the "cooperative programs"
that he had negotiated with the Soviets, he reported on conversations
in which his hosts had discussed the plans for future Soviet efforts
in space. Included in Soviet comments was an apparent postponement of
a manned program of lunar exploration. Lovell told Dryden that
President Keldysh of the Soviet Academy had given three reasons for
favoring automated unmanned spacecraft for exploring the lunar
- Soviet scientists could see no immediate
solution to the problem of protecting the cosmonauts from the
lethal effects of intense solar outbursts.
- No economically practical solution could
be seen of launching sufficient material on the moon for a useful
manned exercise with reasonable guarantee of safe return to
- The Academy is convinced that the
scientific problems involved in the lunar exploration can be
solved more cheaply and quickly by their unmanned, instrumented
Sir Bernard reported that he had argued in
favor of a manned lunar expedition, and Keldysh said that a Soviet
program to send cosmonauts to  the moon might be
revived if the issues raised in the three objections could be
overcome. Furthermore, Keldysh was reported to have suggested:
. . . that the Academy believed
that the time was now appropriate for scientists to formulate on an
international basis (a) the reasons why it is desirable to engage in
the manned lunar enterprise and (b) to draw up a list of scientific
tasks which a man on the moon could deal with which could not be
solved by instruments alone. The Academy regarded this initial step
as the first and most vital in any plan for proceeding on an
In concluding his report to Dryden, Lovell
said that he had promised Keldysh to convey the substance of these
discussions to the "appropriate authorities in the United Kingdom and
the United States of America." Now that Lovell had discharged his
promise, a major question remained. What did his conversation with
President Keldysh signify?
There were various American interpretations of
the Lovell letter. To some observers, this seemed to be strong,
reliable data from a prominent scientist that the Soviets had dropped
out of the race to the moon. Furthermore, the Soviet Union seemed
willing to talk about cooperation in a joint program of lunar
exploration. This would mean a dramatic shift from the concept of
coordinated space ventures to integrated programs, a change that
would require deeper study and extensive discussions between the U.S.
and the Soviet Union. Other commentators on the Soviet space program,
including Dryden, viewed the Keldysh remarks to Lovell simply as a
propaganda ploy that would require the Americans to submit their
lunar program to an international body for scrutiny.56 Whatever the motivation, the conversations reported by
Lovell were newsworthy, and the press asked President Kennedy to
address the substance of these remarks on 17 July.
"Would we still continue with our moon
program" if the Soviets should drop out of the lunar race, the press
asked? The President said that he knew only what he had heard or read
in news reports; therefore, he had to conclude that only time would
tell what the true Soviet intentions were. Kennedy did see that the
Soviets were "carrying on a major [technological] campaign and
diverting greatly needed resources to their space effort. With that
in mind," the President thought, "we should continue" our effort to
go to the moon. Betraying a sense of skepticism, he suggested that
"the prediction in this morning's paper that they are not going to
the moon . . . might be wrong a year from now." When pressed to
defend Apollo and the moon landing should the Soviets quit the race,
Kennedy touched on the strategic importance of sending an American to
The point of the matter always has
been not only of our excitement of interest in being on the moon, but
the capacity to dominate space, which would be demonstrated by a moon
flight, I believe is essential to the United
 States as a leading free world power. That is why I
am interested in it and that is why I think we should continue, and I
would be not diverted by a newspaper story.57
But two months later on 20 September,
President Kennedy in a surprise address before the General Assembly
of the United Nations raised the possibility of a "joint expedition
to the moon."58 How are Kennedy's two positions to be reconciled? At
one point, the President called for American domination of the space
frontier in the 1960s, and at another time he argued that "space
offers no problems of sovereignty," so "why, therefore, should man's
first flight to the moon be a matter of national competition? Why
should the United States and the Soviet Union, in preparing for such
expeditions, become involved in immense duplications of research,
construction, and expenditure?"59 The "why" of competition versus cooperation had been a
matter of much discussion among the White House staff prior to
Kennedy's U.N. address.
Two days before Kennedy's speech, McGeorge
Bundy, a Presidential assistant, addressed the question of
cooperation and competition in a "Memorandum for the President." NASA
Administrator Webb had reported to Bundy that the agency anticipated
continued suggestions from the Soviets that the two nations cooperate
in space. Indeed, the subject of the Lovell letter and the idea of
cooperative lunar exploration had been discussed by Blagonravov and
Dryden in a New York luncheon meeting.60 The dramatic newspaper reports of the meeting raised
questions that Bundy passed along to Kennedy.61 "The obvious choice was whether to press for
cooperation or to continue to use the Soviet space effort as a spur
to our own." In this same memorandum, which was prepared as
background for the President's meeting that same morning with
Administrator Webb, Bundy indicated that there was some "low-level
disagreement" on this topic within
NASA.#explanation1``* He argued that in his own "hasty judgment" a decision
was called for on competition or cooperation. If competition was
favored, then the U.S. should make every effort to meet the goal of a
lunar landing before the end of the 1960s. "If we cooperate, the
pressure comes off, and we can easily argue that it was our crash
effort [in] '61 and '62 which made the Soviets ready to
Later on the morning of 18 September, the
President met briefly with James Webb. Kennedy told him that he was
thinking of pursuing the topic of cooperation with the Soviets as
part of a broader effort to bring the two
 countries closer together. He asked Webb, "Are you
sufficiently in control to prevent my being undercut in NASA if I do
that?" As Webb remembered that meeting, "So in a sense he didn't ask
me if he should do it; he told me he thought he should do it and
wanted to do it. . . ." What he sought from Webb was the assurance
that there would be no further unsolicited comments from within the
space agency. Webb told the President that he could keep things under
Late on the following day, Bundy called Webb
to tell him that the President had decided to include a statement
about space cooperation with the Soviets in his U.N. address. Bundy
informed Webb that Kennedy wanted "to be sure that you know about
it."64 The new paragraph, drafted by Arthur M. Schlesinger,
Jr., another Kennedy aide, had not been included in the earlier
drafts of the speech circulated at NASA.65 Upon receiving the President's message, Webb
immediately telephoned directions to the various NASA centers "to
make no comment of any kind or description on this
The President's proposal for a joint
expedition to the moon was intended to be a step toward improved
Soviet-American relations. The impact of the speech was quite the
reverse. Moscow and the Soviet press virtually ignored the U.N.
address.** 67 Officially, the Soviet government did not
comment.68 In the U.S., the public remarks either strongly
supported the idea of a joint flight or equally forcefully opposed
Reaction within NASA itself was varied. During
a news conference in Houston on the day of the President's address,
Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., stated that Kennedy's
proposals came as no great surprise. He said that many "large areas"
for cooperation existed, such as exchanges of scientific information
and space tracking data, but he emphasized that there were no plans
for cosmonauts to fly aboard an Apollo spacecraft. Deputy Associate
Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller shared
Seamans's view. He compared future U.S.-U.S.S.R. cooperation in space
to joint explorations in Antarctica. Scientists from both nations
worked in the same region, but "they got there in different ships."
Robert Gilruth, Director of MSC, expressed the concerns of technical
Specialists about an integrated mission.70
Speaking before the National Rocket Club three
days before the Kennedy address to the U.N., Gilruth had said that he
"would welcome the opportunity to go behind the scenes in the Soviet
Union and see what  they're doing, what
they have learned." But then he added that a joint space flight
involving the melding of equipment would pose difficulties. "I
tremble at the thought of the integration problems." Gilruth
emphasized that he was speaking as a working engineer and not as "an
international politician." He said that American space engineers had
enough difficulties mating the hundreds of electrical, mechanical,
and pyrotechnic connections between American launch vehicles and
spacecraft. Noting "how difficult these integration problems are"
from a technical standpoint within a single agency, he said that the
engineering problems inherent in combining the hardware of two
nations would be "hard to do in a practical sort of way." At the 20
September MSC news conference, he added that such problems "are very
difficult even when [the hardware components] are built by American
contractors."71 Gilruth's fears were unfounded for the time being;
there would be no joint missions in the foreseeable future.
Thus the optimism generated by the Lovell
report regarding joint flight ventures turned into
disillusionment.*** 72 The political climate - domestic and international -
would not support bold proposals for cooperation. Most Americans
believed that the U.S. was firmly committed to be the first nation on
the moon; an executive or scientific wish to cooperate should not
deter the country from obtaining that goal. The clearest statement of
Copyright © 1963 Chicago
Sun-Times and reproduced by courtesy of Wil-Jo Associates, Inc., and
Thomas Turner of the Republican Aviation
Corporation teamed up with Mel Hunter to suggest a way that the
Americans and the Soviets could go to the moon together. Drawings for
Life by Mel
Hunter (© 1963 Time Inc.)
 attitude toward the
Kennedy proposal of a joint moon venture came in December, when
Congress passed an appropriations bill carrying the following
No part of any appropriation made
available to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by
this Act shall be used for expenses of participating in a manned
lunar landing to be carried out jointly by the United States and any
other country without consent of the Congress.73
This basic provision was repeated in the NASA
appropriations acts for fiscal years 1964-1966. President Lyndon
Johnson called this clause an "unnecessary and undesirable
Johnson attempted throughout the winter of
1963 to keep the door to cooperation open. On 2 December, Ambassador
Adlai E. Stevenson told the Political Committee of the U.N. that the
President had instructed him to reaffirm the Kennedy proposal for a
joint Soviet-American expedition to the moon. Without referring to
the political storm in Congress over the idea of any proposals for
joint flight ventures, Stevenson said, "If giant steps cannot be
taken at once, we hope that shorter steps can. We believe there are
areas of work, short of integrating the two national programs, from
which all could benefit." Therefore, he suggested that "we should
explore the opportunities for practical cooperation. . .
."75 The task of negotiating these "small steps" fell once
more upon the shoulders of Hugh L. Dryden and Anatoliy Arkadyevich
* The "low-level
disagreement" Bundy mentions refers to press accounts of a 17 Sept.
1963 speech in which Manned Spacecraft Center Director Robert Gilruth
had told the National Rocket Club that a joint American-Russian space
flight - especially one to the moon - would present almost
insuperable technological difficulties.
** The paper
Za Rubezhom saw the Kennedy proposal as a propaganda stunt. A
Walter Lippman column reprinted by Pravda saw the primary
value of Kennedy's speech to be the opportunity it offered the U.S.
to escape a unilateral visit to the moon.
*** The Lovell letter
was disavowed by the Soviets in the winter of 1963. Keldysh
repudiated the letter in a radio broadcast on 14 Oct., while
Khrushchev indicated that the U.S.S.R. was still part of the race to
53. Sir Bernard Lovell
to Dryden, 23 July 1963. This letter and the response from Webb are
reprinted in full by Frutkin, International Cooperation in Space, pp. 127-131.
International Cooperation in
Space, p. 129.
56. During congressional
testimony, Dryden said, "the Russians are proposing an international
forum of scientists to discuss our program not theirs," U.S.
Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Appropriations,
Subcommittee on Independent Offices, Independent Offices Appropriations for 1964: Hearings,
Pt. 3, 88th Cong., 1st sess., 1963, p.
57. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States,
John F. Kennedy, 1963 (Washington,
1964), pp. 567-568. Expanded discussion of the Lovell letter and its
impact is provided by Frutkin, International Cooperation in Space, pp. 105-111, and Harvey and Ciccoritti,
U.S.-Soviet Cooperation in
Space, pp. 112-119.
58. Public Papers of John F. Kennedy, 1963, pp. 695-696.
59. Ibid; and Julian
Scheer, memo for record, 29 Oct. 1963, with distributed attachments
designed to guide discussion on the value of Project Apollo:
Attachment A - NASA response to UPI story that Russia had "withdrawn"
from the "moon race," 26 Oct. 1963; Attachment B - NASA subsequent
response to queries from news media; Attachment C - Presidential
State of the Union speech, 25 May 1961; Attachment D - Webb speech
excerpt; Attachment E - List of reasons why the U.S. has mounted
broad-based program as outlined in recent presentation.
60. Dryden, memo for
record, 17 Sept. 1963, reprinted in part by Harvey and Ciccoritti,
U.S.-Soviet Cooperation in
Space, pp. 118-119.
61. John W. Finney,
"U.S. Aide Rebuffs Soviets Moon Bid," New York Times, 18 Sept.
1963; and Howard Simons, "Soviet Interest in U.S. Space Ties Seen
Post, 18 Sept. 1963.
62. Bundy to Kennedy,
memo, "Your 11 a.m. Appointment with Jim Webb," 18 Sept. 1963.
63. Interview, James E.
Webb, 19 Sept. 1972, as cited in Harvey and Ciccoritti,
U.S.-Soviet Cooperation in
Space, p. 122; and Webb, "Leadership
Evaluation in Large Scale Efforts," paper presented to the General
Accounting Office Fifty Year Anniversary Meeting [n.d.], pp.
64. Interview, Webb, 19
Sept. 1972; and Webb to Ezell, [May 1975].
Dryden-Frutkin, Sohier, and Emme, 26 Mar. 1964, p. 25. Schlesinger's
role is related in A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White
House (Boston and Cambridge, Mass.,
1965), pp. 918-921.
66. Interview, Webb, 19
67. Za Rubezhom [Abroad], 28
Sept. 1963, as cited in "Russian Says Moon Shot Idea of President Is
Post, 29 Sept. 1963. The Walter
Lippman column, "Today and Tomorrow: Purifying the Moon Project," had
been published in the American papers on 24 Sept. 1963 and was
reprinted in Moscow as "Trezvii podkhod" [Sober approach],
2 Oct. 1963.
68. Harvey and
Ciccoritti, U.S.-Soviet Cooperation in
Space, pp. 124-126.
69. A sample of the
responses is as follows: Howard Simons, "Opinion Divided Here on
Joint Moon Shot Plan"; "Russian News Reports Delete Moon Trip Plan";
"Goldwater Criticizes Moon Plan"; "A Lofty Appeal," editorial,
Washington Post, 21 Sept. 1963; Thomas J. Hamilton,"Kennedy Asks Joint
Moon Flight by U.S. and Soviets as Peace Step; Urges New Accords in
U.N. Speech"; and John W. Finney, "Washington Surprised at Retreat
from Insistence That U.S. Reach Moon First," New York Times, 21 Sept.
1963. A quick analysis of the Kennedy proposal was prepared for the
RAND corporation by Alton Frye, The
Proposal for a Joint Lunar Expedition: Background and
Prospects, report no. P-2808 (Santa
70. Warren Burkett, "J.
F. K. Offer to Cooperate No Surprise, " Houston Chronicle, 21
U.S.-Russian Space Problems Feared," Houston Chronicle, 19
Sept. 1963; and Burkett, "J. F. K. Offer." Gilruth was speaking at
the Goddard Memorial Dinner where he was being honored with the Dr.
Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy.
72. Space Business Daily, 7
Nov. 1963, p. 217 summarizes Khrushchev's reported position and
commented editorially on its significance:
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
has made it emphatically clear that the USSR has neither "deferred,"
postponed, or "withdrawn" its competitive lunar landing program.
Rather, he says his country will launch a man to the Moon when all
preparations have been completed that will ensure his safety.
In making the announcement he chided United
States speculation that the Soviet Union has changed its lunar
landing plans for economic reasons. "In regard to the question of
whether we have given up our lunar project. You're the ones who said
Khrushchev's remarks, hopefully, coming at a
time when the memories are still fresh, will be a warning to members
of the general press and many members of our national leadership that
inaccurate translation, quotation and interpretation or analysis of
the antagonists proclamations on the still very technical and complex
arena of space can afford a very embarrassing psychological victory
to those antagonists. If members of the general press had resorted to
the expediency of consulting with our own national space leadership,
for instance, Dr. Edward Welsh of the National Space Council (a
technical advisor more than a political appointment), it would not
have appeared that our entire national space program was a tail
wagged by Premier Khrushchev.
This past year has seen an excess of
spur-of-the-moment interpretations reflected in assaults upon the
whole concept of the national space program and the age-old
philosophy of national competition to a point where there has been a
weakening of our nations determination at a time when the antagonist
is demonstrating a continuing space technology leadership. At the
risk of being repetitive, it should be recorded that many of our
general press have a history of placing our space leaders on trial by
the proclamations from an audience either completely ignorant of the
technology of space and its implications, or from foreign or
73. Public Law 88-215,
An act making appropriations. . . for
the fiscal year ending June 30, 1964, . . . , 88th Cong., 1st sess., 1963, p. 16. The rumor that the
Soviets had withdrawn from the "moon race" had led to substantial
cuts in the NASA budget. Kennedy Administration efforts to restore
part or all of the 600 million were unsuccessful.
74. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States,
Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964 I
(Washington, 1964), pp. 72-73. Kennedy had begun to publicly back
away from his proposal; see Kennedy to Albert Thomas, 23 Sept. 1963,
in which he said, "In my judgment, therefore, our renewed and
extended purpose of cooperation, so far from offering any excuse for
slackening or weakness in our space effort, is one reason the more
for moving ahead with the great program to which we have been
committed as a country for more than two years."
75. Louis B. Fleming,
"Adlai Renews Proposal for Joint Trip to Moon," Washington Post, 3 Dec.
1963; and Kathleen Teltsch, "U.S. Renews Call to Soviet to Join in
Moon Venture," New York
Times, 3 Dec. 1963. NASA and the White
House continued to study the topic of cooperation internally. See
Kennedy to Webb, "Cooperation with the USSR on Outer Space Matters,"
National Security Action Memorandum No. 271, 12 Nov. 1963; and Webb
to U. Alexis Johnson, 18 Dec. 1963, which included a NASA position
paper, "US-USSR Cooperation in Space Research Programs," which had
been developed by Frutkins office in response to the Presidents memo
of 12 Nov.