IN THE less than five years since the first Soviet sputnik orbited the earth to inaugurate the space age, two major factors have emerged in Washington’s consideration of what lies ahead. One is the sheer cost, which in turn relates to the problem of how far to go in sharing space exploration with the Russians, should they translate their willingness into practical terms. The other is the uneasy relationship within the American government between the civilian and military efforts in space.
A year ago, when President Kennedy put the question to Congress whether the United States should spend the billions necessary to put a man on the moon, there was considerable grumbling from many Americans struggling to find the money for such problems as public education. But Congress voted to open the Treasury doors nonetheless.
As is the habit with new ventures, first cost estimates have proved to be far too conservative. New funds authorized, a better measure of expenditures than actual cash outlays, rose from $964 million in fiscal 1961 to $1828 million in 1962 to a proposed $3787 million for the fiscal year beginning this July 1. But even this rapidly rising line on the chart is only a foretaste.
The cost of the moon-landing project, the major expenditure, originally estimated at $20 to $30 billion, now is put as high as $50 billion by some experts. This would be the cost of putting a man on the moon and returning him to earth before the end of the decade, the official goal. But because this is likely to be a race with the Soviets, it is probable that a couple of years can be shaved off the time estimate if we are willing to spend the extra money. There is talk now of a lunar landing in 1967, or even, according to the optimists, in 1966. Some of these hurry-up proponents argue that the Soviets probably are aiming at a lunar landing in 1967, the fiftieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
At any rate, the costs are soaring. One writer notes that the 1964 budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is likely to be half the current budget for the entire U.S. Army. Since a lunar landing, like the first crude sputniks, will be only the beginning of space exploration, it is not hard to see that American space costs will swallow a huge share of the federal budget by the end of the century. Beyond the moon are Mars and Venus, the investigation of which is already under way. And man will surely want to know what lies beyond — and beyond.
Billions spent on space are not spent just on research. The money goes for ever-increasing payrolls and to feed sprouting new American industries. Today an enormous Manned Spacecraft Center is arising outside Houston, Texas, with which the successful Project Mercury will be merged. Do Americans approve of such tremendous expenditures for space? Whatever doubts there were before Colonel John Glenn’s orbital flight seem to have vanished since. The national exhilaration was taken in the Capital as a clear “go” for the space program, whatever the cost.
A run for the money
It was after Glenn’s flight that Nikita Khrushchev said for the first time that the Soviets would be willing to join in space projects. In reply, President Kennedy proposed a significant but rather limited set of projects. To come to an agreement even on these, however, is likely to be a difficult diplomatic problem. Most of the American officials involved doubt Khrushchev’s willingness to join in the major moon program. In fact, a lot of these officials really do not want a joint program; they would prefer the race Khrushchev began because they now believe the United States has a good chance of being first with a man on the moon. Furthermore, as one high official put it, “We can spend the hell out of them.”
It is true that the American economy can stand the cost more easily than the Soviet economy. It is no secret on either side of the Iron Curtain that Soviet concentration on big boosters is the key element to the current Soviet space lead and that, having to make do with much smaller boosters, the Americans have created a considerably more sophisticated instrumentation.
Furthermore, our plans for two huge booster systems are well under way, and an orbital rendezvous system may cut a year from the time for a lunar landing. If Khrushchev wants to compete, in short, it is going to cost him a big price; specifically, it could put a dent in his TwentyYear Plan to catch up with the American standard of living. And only a short time ago, Khrushchev was complaining publicly that the Soviet agricultural system was so inefficient, despite its vast use of manpower, that “We simply do not have enough meat.”
In essence, these American officials take the position that Khrushchev has asked for competitive coexistence, and why should we not give him and his country the competition of a lifetime? There is a lot to be said for this thesis if one assumes such competition is essentially peaceful, in the same sense that internal economic competition over standards of living is. But is it? This is where the uneasy relationship between NASA, the civilian space agency, and the Pentagon enters the picture.
NASA versus the Pentagon
In the first years after sputnik, the Pentagon took a dim view of space and could see no military requirement. The American satellite program, by President Eisenhower’s order, was strictly a civilian effort related to the International Geophysical Year. But as space technology developed, it became evident enough that there could be a military requirement.
Last year the new Administration ordered another look at the problem. This year, just as Americans were turning out in parades for Colonel Glenn, the Air Force made public a little-noticed space-policy report, an unclassified version of a document whose details remain shrouded in secrecy. The report, which looks ahead into the next ten years, foresees military applications in space for offensive and defensive weapons, for logistics and space transport. In presenting the report to Congress, the Air Force’s chief of staff for research and technology, Lieutenant General James Ferguson, said, “We have concluded that a manned military test station in space provides the only reasonable solution to the problems of testing equipment designed for use in space. We are convinced that a manned, military test space station program should be undertaken as early as possible.”
The Air Force wants both manned and unmanned spacecraft which could rendezvous with hostile craft. Such military craft, Ferguson said, require a “high degree of maneuverability not essential to scientific operation.”This, he added, would mean in-space engines of higher power. Furthermore, said Ferguson, “Space systems may provide a breakthrough in the area of defense against ballistic missile attack.”
It is evident enough from this that the military intend to fight for a big role in space. Ferguson said that a manned space station might be a cooperative effort with NASA, using the two-man Gemini capsule now being developed. But the past years’ history of military-civilian relationship in space work has led to grumbling on both sides. It is next to impossible to draw a line between the two fields of endeavor; in fact, the American failure to be first in orbit can be traced in considerable measure to President Eisenhower’s demand that the two roles be kept separate.
Somehow a new relationship will have to be established on a long-term basis both for commonsense and military reasons, not to mention cost factors. But it is not going to be easy, and there is not yet any real indication of when such decisions are likely to be reached.
The military view of space, even though tardy, is certain to increase the sense of caution on any cooperative efforts with the Soviet Union. It is widely believed in the West that the Soviets soon will orbit a two-man vehicle (their last singleman vehicle was big enough for two) and that they are concentrating on putting a man on the moon, probably by using the rendezvous-inspace method. Hence, Khrushchev’s talk of space cooperation is taken with a grain of salt in Washington.
It is also evident that ever since the dawn of the atomic age the scientists have been racing ahead of the statesmen. Nuclear war so far has been avoided; but it is the task of statesmen, both Kennedy and Khrushchev, to peer over the scientists’ shoulders and begin now to cope with the problems just dawning far out in space.
The lost art of discussion
Only two of the one hundred senators now in office took their seats before Franklin Roosevelt was sworn in the first time, in 1933. Gone are all the twentieth-century orators of the pre-radio and television age, such men as Borah and Hiram Johnson, the elder LaFollette and Reed of Missouri, Vandenburg and Connally.
Today there are, indeed, some men with passion in their speech, convincing passion too, whether it stems from the liberalism of Hubert Humphrey or from the conservatism of Robert Kerr. But there is no debate on Capitol Hill worth recording. Great issues are supposed to produce great debates, but probably not since the American entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has any debate lived up to its advance billing.
One reason is that strong Presidents take the play away from Congress. Eisenhower offered the Senate the opportunity to have its say; it rarely did in terms of a real discussion and dissection of the issues. The symbol of today’s senator is the pipe-smoking, professional type with a low boiling point, epitomized by Senate Majority Leader Mansfield. Most Washington observers lay the blame on television. For radio, the political orator had to stand still in front of the microphone or lose most of his audience; for television he must look right as well as stay in front of the camera. Flowing hair and frock coats are gone, and so is anyone who cannot fit his words neatly into the time between commercials.
Some of the discussion programs achieve a sense of dialogue between opposing points of view, but such dialogue seems to have all but disappeared from the Senate floor. The five-minute limitation long ago robbed House members of an opportunity to do more than speak for the record; seldom does a House speech alter votes.
Perhaps the answer is to let television into the Senate gallery, just as it is in the United Nations gallery. An educational channel could give full coverage, with other stations picking and choosing at will. It has been said that all members of Congress would turn into TV hams if the cameras were focused on them. It might be worth putting up with a few hams, to restore the art of discussion. There was hardly any debate on Kennedy’s momentous decision to resume nuclear tests unless the Soviets agreed to a test-ban treaty. There may be discussions when his trade-expansion act, certainly worthy of the most serious consideration, reaches the Senate floor. But it is doubtful. Most senators and congressmen seem resigned to putting into the Congressional Record an editorial or two on the subject and then hurrying off to TV or radio to do a spot report for the people back home.
Fowler Hamilton and foreign aid
Of all the thankless jobs in Washington, that of foreign-aid boss certainly rates as number one. The glamour of the days when such men as Paul Hoffman and Averell Harriman ran the aid program long since has disappeared. Congress over the years has been increasingly fretful. This year the focus in the international economic field has been on the President’s trade-expansion program. \ et foreign aid remains a key instrument ol our foreign policy, and its management is of vast importance.
1 he latest of a long series of new bosses is Wall Street lawyer Fowler Hamilton, a Rhodes scholar with considerable international economic experience. Hamilton is adept with facts and figures and is willing to admit ignorance when that is the case. But he has been off to a slow start, tangled in reorganization and personnel problems, and his press relations have hardly been memorable. He has recruited his top aides largely from the business world, a cause of grumbling from the entrenched bureaucracy, however able the new men may turn out to be.
The result is that instead of getting the revamped agency off to a new start this year, as the President last year promised the Congress would be the case, Hamilton is talking of needing another year to get things shipshape. Perhaps he will in time, but his agency has some 17,000 employees, half of them foreign nationals scattered around the globe and 6200 of them Americans overseas.
Hamilton is one of those bustling executives who like to pick up the phone and tell an aide to fly home for consultation and then send him back to the job in a couple of days. He is asking Congress for three quarters of a million dollars extra for travel, a request which is an invitation to trouble on the Hill, whatever its management virtues.
Mood of the Capital
It was something more than spring which seemed to lift the Capital’s spirits this year. Despite all the headaches, foreign and domestic, a sense of increased self-confidence has been apparent. It may have been the result of the success of Colonel Glenn’s orbital flight, something which, as Kennedy put it, gave the United States “more chips on the table" of international power and prestige. Even a new Soviet space triumph will not cancel that burst of exultation.
The economy at home is not as satisfactory as Kennedy would like; Southeast Asia is a soft spot, yet American determination to beat back the Communists in Vietnam is evident both here and in Moscow and Peiping; Berlin is still in crisis, but the U.S. decision not to be driven out seems to have become accepted to a great degree. On top of all these factors, the Sino-Soviet troubles appear to multiply rather than decrease, whereas the tendency in the Atlantic community is certainly toward further cohesion, despite the many problems which afflict the allies.
A turning of direction is always hard to spot in a nation’s mood. It is still too early to say it has occurred, but at least spring brought new glimmers of hope.