Report to the President-Elect of the Ad Hoc Committee on Space, January 10, 1961

[Editorial headnote: John F. Kennedy was the first President-elect to set up high-level “transition teams” to advise him on issues that he would face upon assuming the Presidency. His transition team on space was chaired by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Jerome B. Wiesner, a member of President Eisenhower’s President’s Science Advisory Committee (and thus familiar with discussions inside the Eisenhower administration on space policy and programs). Wiesner had advised Kennedy on science and technology issues during the Presidential campaign and would become the new President’s science adviser. The report reflected the widespread skepticism within the scientific elite of the country over the value, and even the feasibility, of human spaceflight. Copy available in NASA Historical Reference Collection, History Office, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. Page references to original document in brackets.]

Wiesner Committee

January 10, 1961


I. Introduction

Actions in area now comprise six main classes:

  1. Ballistic missiles.
  2. Scientific observations from satellites.
  3. The exploration of the photo voltaic system with devices carried in deep area probes.
  4. Army area programs.
  5. Man in orbit and in area.
  6. Non-military functions of area know-how.

We depend on the primary member of the record, ballistic missiles, for a big a part of the retaliatory response to the Russian missile risk.

It’s usually assumed by the American citizen that our huge expenditures of cash and technical expertise within the nationwide area program are primarily designed to fulfill the overriding wants of our army safety. The very fact is, nevertheless, that the sense of pleasure and creativity has moved away from the missile area to the opposite elements of the record, and that missiles, lengthy earlier than they’re in situation for us to depend on them, are slowly being delegated to the class of routine administration. Earlier than we proceed on this report to debate and assist the vital actions within the different 5 classes we want to emphasize the hazard of failing to finish and deploy on time our intercontinental deterrent missiles.

[2] Along with the necessity to develop ballistic missiles to offer for our army safety, there are 5 principal motivations for wanting an important, efficient area program. It is very important distinguish amongst them when trying to judge our nationwide area effort.

First, there’s the issue of nationwide status Area exploration and exploits have captured the creativeness of the peoples of the world. Through the subsequent few years the status of the USA will partly be decided by the management we show in area actions. It’s inside this context that we should contemplate man in area. Given time, a need, appreciable innovation, and enough effort and cash, man can ultimately discover our photo voltaic system. Given his huge curiosity concerning the universe by which he lives and his compelling urge to go the place nobody has ever been earlier than, this will probably be finished.

Second, we consider that some area developments, along with missiles, can contribute a lot to our nationwide safety—each when it comes to army programs and of arms-limitation inspection and management programs.

Third, the event of area autos affords new alternatives for scientific statement and experiment including to our data and understanding of the earth, the photo voltaic system, and the universe. Within the three years since critical area exploration was initiated the USA has been the excellent contributor to area science. We should always make each effort to proceed and to enhance this place.

Fourth, there are a selection of vital sensible non-military functions for area know-how amongst them, satellite tv for pc communications and broadcasting; satellite tv for pc navigation and geodesy; meteorological reconnaissance; and satellite tv for pc mapping which may make vital contributions to our civilian efforts and to our economic system.

Lastly, area actions, notably within the fields of communications and within the exploration of our photo voltaic system, provide thrilling prospects for worldwide cooperation with all of the nations of the world The very formidable [3] and long-range area initiatives would prosper in the event that they could possibly be carried out in an environment of cooperation as initiatives of all mankind as a substitute of int he current ambiance of nationwide competitors.

The advert hoc panel has made a hasty evaluate of the nationwide area program, maintaining in thoughts the objectiveþto present a survey of this system and to determine personnel, technical, or administrative issues which require the immediate consideration of the Kennedy administration. Now we have recognized various main issues in every of those classes, and they are going to be mentioned on this report. It’s apparent that there was insufficient time to look at all sides of this system or to allow full consideration of the potential solutions to most of the questions raised.

Due to the overriding necessity to offer extra environment friendly and efficient management for this system, the group has devoted a significant portion of its time to this side of the area program. We are going to, nevertheless, point out vital scientific and technical issues which must be totally examined as quickly as potential. Now we have concluded that you will need to reassess totally nationwide aims within the area effortþparticularly in regard to man in area; area, science and exploration; and the non-military functions of area, in an effort to guarantee a correct division of effort amongst these actions. Area actions are so unbelievably costly and folks working on this area are so imaginative that the area program may simply develop to value many extra billions of {dollars} per yr.

Whereas we at the moment are compelled to criticize our area program and its administration, we should first give ample recognition to the dedication and expertise which caused very actual progress in area throughout the previous few years. Our scientific accomplishments thus far are spectacular, however sadly, towards the background of Soviet accomplishments with giant boosters, they haven’t been spectacular sufficient.

Our evaluate of the USA’ area program has disclosed various organizational and administration deficiencies in addition to issues of staffing and course which ought to obtain immediate consideration from the brand new administration. These embody critical issues inside NASA, throughout the army institution, and on the [4] government and different policy-making ranges of presidency. These issues are mentioned within the sections which comply with.

II. The Ballistic Missile Program

The nation’s ballistic missile program is lagging. The event of the missiles and of the related management programs, the bottom development, and missile procurement should all be accelerated if we’re to have the safe missile deterrent pressure quickly that the nation has been led to anticipate.

Whereas further funds will undoubtedly be required to perform this, we consider that re-establishing an efficient, environment friendly, technically competent association for this system is the overriding necessity.

Although the missile program just isn’t ordinarily thought to be a part of the area program, you will need to acknowledge that for the close to future the achievement of an ample deterrent pressure is far more vital for the nation’s safety than are many of the area aims, and that no less than a part of the problem within the administration and execution of this system stems from the distraction throughout the Protection Division and in {industry} attributable to huge new area initiatives. Nevertheless, now we have no different however to press ahead, with area developments.

III. Group and Administration

There’s an pressing want to ascertain simpler administration and coordination of the USA area effort. The brand new administration has promised to maneuver our nation right into a place of preeminence within the broad vary of army, cultural, scientific and civilian functions of satellite tv for pc and different area autos. This can’t be finished with out main enhancements within the planning and course of this system. Neither NASA as presently operated nor the fractionated army area program nor the long-dormant area council have been ample to fulfill the problem that the Soviet thrust into area has posed to our army safety and t our place of management on this planet.

[5] Along with the difficulties and delays which this system has endured due to the dearth of enough planning and course, it has additionally been handicapped as a result of too few of the nation’s excellent scientists and engineers have been deeply dedicated to the event and analysis packages within the area area. In altering the administration construction and in deciding on the directors for the trouble, the necessity to create space actions enticing to a bigger group of competent scientists and engineers must be a guideline.

The brand new administration has introduced that it plans to make use of the Nationwide Aeronautics and Area Council for coordinating authorities area actions, or advising the President on coverage on plans and on the implementation of packages. We consider that the area council can fulfill this position solely whether it is technically well- knowledgeable and, furthermore, severely accepts the accountability for steering the conduct of a coherent nationwide area effort. Explicit care must be taken to insure the collection of a really competent and skilled employees to help the Council.

Not solely should we offer extra vigor, competence and integration within the area area, however we should additionally relate our area necessities to different very important packages which assist our nationwide coverage. We refer notably to the missile wants, already talked about, and to the persevering with want for growth and analysis within the area of aeronautics.

Every of the army providers has begun to create its personal impartial area program. This presents the issue of overlapping packages and duplication of the work of NASA. If the accountability of all army area developments have been to be assigned to at least one company or army service throughout the Division o Protection, the Secretary of Protection would then be capable to preserve management of the scope and course of this system and the Area Council would have the accountability for settling conflicts of curiosity between NASA and the Division of Protection.

With its current organizational construction and with the dearth of robust technical and scientific personalities within the high echelons, it’s extremely unlikely [6] that NASA area actions may be tremendously improved by vitalization of the Area Council.

We’re additionally involved by the NASA preoccupation with the event of an in-house analysis institution. We really feel that too giant a fraction of the NASA program, notably within the scientific fields, is being channeled into NASA-operated amenities. NASA’s employees has needed to broaden a lot too quickly and with out ample selectivity, in order that many inexperiences folks have been positioned in positions of main accountability. This has, in flip, made NASA much less keen then would a extra mature and competent group to solicit and settle for the recommendation of competent non-government scientists. This case seems to be enhancing this present day.

One vital accountability of NASA given little consideration now within the group, is that of offering for primary analysis and superior growth within the area of aeronautics. There’s a normal perception within the aviation {industry} that the nationwide preoccupation with area developments has all however halted any advance within the idea and know-how of aerodynamic flight. There’s ample proof to assist the rivalry that the Russians and presumably the British, are surpassing us on this area and consequently within the growth of supersonic industrial plane. We should always make a considerable effort to right this example, presumably by getting a few of NASA’s aeronautical and aerodynamic consultants again into the sphere of superior plane analysis and growth. Probably, after cautious investigation, the Area Council would like to stimulate this work by non-governmental preparations, or by inserting it totally in one other company.

We consider that the work on NASA can be facilitated and the duty of recruiting employees made potential if an impressive skilled was positioned answerable for the course and administration of every of the next vital areas of labor:

  • a. Propulsion and car design and growth
  • b. The area sciences [7]
  • c. Non-military exploitation of area know-how
  • d. Aeronautical sciences and plane growth

IV. The Booster Program

The shortcoming of our rockets to raise giant payloads into area is the important thing to the intense limitations of our area program. It’s the cause for the present Russian benefit in endeavor manned area flight and a wide range of formidable unmanned missions. As a consequence, the fast growth of boosters with a better weight-lifting capability is a matter of nationwide urgency.

Payload weight is at present restricted by our dependence on modified army rockets as the first boosters (THOR, JUPITER, ATLAS). Present plans name for the primary substantial enhance in payload with the addition of the CENTAUR higher stage to the ATLAS in 1962, adopted by a second huge step with the SATURN booster in 1965.

It’s doubtless that a wide range of new booster packages will probably be proposed within the close to future, notably for army initiatives. There aren’t any basic variations in civilian and army necessities that are foreseeable now. If the nationwide effort is to be centered and the very giant expenditures are to not be distributed amongst an extreme variety of booster packages, it is crucial that we preserve and strengthen the idea of a Nationwide Booster Program.

Numerous issues could nicely come up within the Nationwide Booster Program. The current MERCURY program, primarily based on the ATLAS, is marginal and if the ATLAS proves insufficient for the job it could be essential to push options vigorously. The primary risk seems to be the TITAN, though it has not but demonstrated the reliability which is required. We should always research the desirability of finishing up a TITAN-boosted MERCURY program within the occasion ATLAS ought to show to be insufficient.

The CENTAUR rocket entails a wholly new know-how and remains to be untested. If difficulties develop on this program throughout the subsequent three or 4 months we should act promptly to provoke an alternate.

[8] Improvement of the SATURN-booster, a cluster of eight ATLAS engines, ought to proceed to be prosecuted vigorously. Nevertheless, it will be harmful to depend on SATURN alone for the answer to our issues, both within the lengthy or quick time period, for 2 causes:

(a) It’s intrinsically so complicated that there’s a actual query whether or not it may be made to perform reliably.

(b) It represents a most elaboration of current know-how and supplies no path to additional growth.

Subsequently, the event of a really giant single engine ought to proceed as quick as potential in order that it could be a back-up for the SATURN cluster and a base for future bigger car growth. The current F-1 (1.5 million lb. thrust) engine growth must be studied to make sure it’s progressing quick sufficient and has sufficient promise of success to fill this position. If the technological step in going from the current 180,000 lb. thrust engines to 1.5 million lbs. is so huge as to make success marginal, a parallel growth of a considerably smaller engine must be began.

The nuclear rocket program (ROVER) presents an space by which some main selections should be taken by the brand new administration. In precept the nuclear rocket can ultimately carry heavier payloads a lot farther than any chemical rocket. Nonetheless, the know-how is so new and the extrapolation from reactors developed now to sizes which might be helpful in giant rockets is so nice that it’s not clear how quickly they may make an vital contribution to the area program. The usage of nuclear rockets will elevate critical worldwide political issues for the reason that risk {that a} reactor may reenter and fall on international territory can’t be ignored. A significant technical and administration evaluate of the ROVER program appears pressing.

Above all we should encourage totally new concepts which could result in actual breakthroughs. One such thought is the ORION proposal to make the most of a lot of small nuclear bombs for rocket propulsion. This proposal ought to obtain cautious [9] research with a realization of the worldwide issues related to such a enterprise.

[Most of page 9, all of pages 10 and 11, and 1/3 of page 12 excised during declassification review] [12]

VI. Science in Area and Area Exploration

Within the three years since area exploration started, experiments with satellites and deep area probes have offered a wealth of recent scientific outcomes of nice significance. Regardless of the constraints in {our capability} of lifting heavy payloads, we now maintain a place of management in area science. American scientists have found the good belt of radiation, trapped throughout the earth’s magnetic area. American scientists have revealed the existence of a system of electrical currents that circle our planet. Our area autos have probed the interplanetary area to distances of tens of hundreds of thousands of miles from the earth. They’ve proven that the earth just isn’t transferring by means of an empty area however by means of an exceedingly skinny magnetized plasma. They’ve intercepted streams of fast-moving plasma ejected from the solar which, upon reaching our planet, produce magnetic storms, set off auroral shows and disrupt radio communications.

From these and different experiments, there’s progressively rising a wholly novel image of the situations of area round our planet and of the sun-earth relations. One of many vital duties of area science within the subsequent few years will probably be a full exploration of the brand new area revealed by the early experiments. There’s little doubt that such exploration will result in additional vital discoveries.

[13] One other scientific area, the place area science guarantees an early and main break-through is that of astronomy. Till a couple of years in the past, seen gentle from celestial objects, reaching our telescopes by means of the atmospheric planet, had been the one supply of astronomical data obtainable to man. The one different portion of the spectrum able to penetrating the ambiance and the ionosphere is that similar to short-wave radio indicators. In recent times, the event of radio telescopes has made it potential to detect these indicators. Radio astronomy has enormously superior our data of the universe. Via radio telescopes we are able to now “see” not solely the celebrities, but in addition the good lots of gasoline between the celebrities; we are able to detect the high-energy electrons produced by cosmic accelerators situated hundreds of hundreds of thousands of sunshine years away from the earth.

We’re entitled to anticipate the same and even maybe a extra spectacular advance the day that we will have telescopes put in aboard satellites circling the earth above the ambiance and the ionosphere. These devices will probably be able to detecting the entire of the electro-magnetic spectrum þ from long-wave radio indicators to gamma-rays.

A 3rd main process of area science within the years to return would be the exploration of the moon and the planets. Scientists are planning to fly devices to the neighborhood of those celestial objects, and ultimately to land them upon their floor. From the info provided by these devices they anticipate to acquire data of decisive significance in regards to the origin and the evolution of the photo voltaic system. Furthermore, there’s the distinct risk that planetary exploration could result in the invention of extra-terrestrial types of life. This clearly can be one of many biggest human achievements of all instances.

Our current management in area science is because of a big extent to the early participation of a few of our ablest scientists in our area program, primarily as a part of the Worldwide Geophysical Yr, and to the truth that these scientists have been ready to affect this program. One other vital [14] issue was our preliminary benefit in instrumentation, which helped to offset our drawback in propulsion.

We should not delude ourselves into pondering that it will likely be simple for the usA. to take care of sooner or later a distinguished place in area science. The us has various competent scientists. It is going to be simpler kind them to meet up with us in instrument growth than for our engineers to meet up with the Russians within the strategy of propulsion. Thus we should push ahead in area science as successfully and as forcefully as we are able to.

Our scientific program in area seems to be mainly sound. Nevertheless, to insure its success, the next necessities should be met.

  1. Within the planning of our area actions, scientific aims should be assigned a distinguished place.
  2. Our area company should insure a large participation in its program by scientists from universities and industrial laboratories, the place our biggest scientific power lies.
  3. It should present ample monetary assist for the event and development of scientific payloads.
  4. It should exert the best knowledge and foresight within the collection of the scientific missions and of the scientists assigned to hold them out.
  5. It should provoke instantly a analysis program in superior instrumentation, in order that we could also be prepared to take advantage of absolutely the aptitude of flying heavier and extra complicated payloads that we will possess a number of years from now. Issues of automation, processing and transmission of data should be tackled by competent and imaginative analysis groups.

NASA has not fulfilled all the above necessities satisfactorily. We consider, as beforehand said, that the principle impediment right here has been the dearth of a powerful scientific character within the high echelons of its group. [15]

VII. Man in Area

We’re quickly approaching the time when the state of know-how will make it potential for man to exit into area. It’s certain that, as quickly as this risk exists, man will probably be compelled to utilize it, by the identical motives which have compelled him to journey to the poles and to climb the very best mountains of the earth. There are additionally dimly perceived army and scientific missions in area which can show to be essential.

Thus, manned exploration of area will definitely come to go and we consider that the USA should play a vigorous position on this enterprise. Nevertheless, in an effort to obtain an efficient and sound program on this area, various info should be clearly understood.

  1. Due to our lag within the growth of huge boosters, it is vitally unlikely that we will be first in inserting a person into orbit across the earth.
  2. Whereas the profitable orbiting of a person concerning the earth just isn’t an finish unto itself, it would present a crucial stepping stone towards the institution of an area station and for the eventual manned exploration of the moon and the planets. The last word aim of this sort of endeavor would, in fact, be an precise touchdown of man on the moon or a planet, adopted by his return to the earth. It isn’t potential to perform such a mission with any autos which might be presently below growth.
  3. Some day, it could be potential for males in area to perform vital scientific or technical duties. Fort he time being, nevertheless, it seems that area exploration should depend on unmanned autos. Subsequently, a crash program geared toward inserting a person into an orbit on the earliest potential time can’t be justified solely on scientific or technical grounds. Certainly, it could hinder the event of our scientific and technical program even the [16] future manned area program by diverting manpower, autos and funds.
  4. The acquisition of recent data and the enrichment of human life by means of technological advances are stable, sturdy, and worthwhile objectives of area actions. There’s normal lack of appreciation of this straightforward truism, each at dwelling and overseas. Certainly, by having positioned highest nationwide precedence on the MERCURY program now we have strengthened the favored perception that man in area is a very powerful purpose of our non-military area effort. The way by which this program has been publicized in our press has additional crystallized such perception. It exaggerates the worth of that side of area exercise the place we’re much less more likely to obtain success, and reductions these features by which now we have already achieved nice success and can most likely reap additional successes sooner or later.
  5. A failure in our first try to put a many into orbit, ensuing within the loss of life of an astronaut, would create a scenario of great nationwide embarrassment. An much more critical scenario would outcome if we fail to securely get well a person from orbit.

On the idea of those info we want to submit the next suggestions:

  1. By permitting the current MERCURY program to proceed unchanges for greater than a only a few months, the brand new Administration would successfully endorse this program and take the blame for its potential failures. A radical and neutral appraisal of the MERCURY program must be urgently made. The aims of the varied phases of this program (together with the proposed physiological checks) must be critically examined. The margins of security must be realistically estimated. If our current man-in-space program [17] seems unsound, we should be ready to switch it drastically and even to cancel it. It is necessary {that a} determination on these issues be reached on the earliest potential date.
  2. No matter we determine to truly do concerning the man-in-space program, we must always cease promoting MERCURY as our main goal in area actions. Certainly, we must always make an effort to decrease the importance of this program to its correct proportion earlier than the general public, each at dwelling and overseas. We should always discover efficient means to make folks recognize the cultural, public service and army significance of area actions aside from area journey.

VIII. Non-military Purposes of Area Expertise – An Business-Authorities Area Program

Because the technical feasibility and reliability of synthetic satellites was demonstrated, many potential civilian makes use of for satellites emerged. With no authorities assist, numerous teams in personal {industry} have examined the sphere for areas of research and growth and some substantial initiatives are already below means.

Industrial and governmental communications satellites seem sensible and economically sound. Communication satellites will present prime quality and cheap phone and normal communication service between most elements of the earth. A by- product of a communication satellite tv for pc will virtually certainly be a world tv relay system linking all of the nations of the world. On an extended time scale it must be possible to offer radio and tv broadcasting service by way of satellite-mounted transmitters. Such programs would give the standard broadcast reception now solely obtainable in and close to city areas to many of the inhabitants of the earth.

Satellites containing dependable beacons can be utilized to offer improved technique of navigation for plane and ships at sea and may tremendously advance the sphere of geodetics.

[18] Correct use of the knowledge gathered by meteorological satellites ought to tremendously enhance our understanding of meteorology. With extra data of meteorology and with world- broad information often obtainable from the satellites, longer-range and extra dependable climate predictions must be potential. These initiatives, goals a decade in the past, bridge areas of technical specialty by which this nation is unexcelled. America has probably the most superior communication system on this planet, with an enormous scientific and technological base supporting the communications {industry}. We’re preeminent within the growth of our digital expertise in radio, tv, phone and telegraphy. This whole industrial-scientific base is obtainable to use its artwork by means of satellite tv for pc programs to the civilian wants of the world.

The exploitation of a brand new space of commercial alternative for civilian use is generally left by our authorities to personal enterprise. Nevertheless, within the case of those vital area programs, the event funding required is so giant that it’s past the monetary sources of even our largest personal {industry}. Moreover, using industrial area satellites would require bodily assist of presidency installations in addition to monetary assist.

The entire civilian satellite tv for pc initiatives listed right here could have direct or oblique army usefulness as nicely. Moreover, communication and navigation programs of the kind envisaged can be extraordinarily helpful in implementing an inspection system which could accompany a disarmament settlement. For these causes initiatives of the kind proposed may nicely be undertaken in cooperation with the army providers.

We advocate {that a} vigorous program to take advantage of the potentialities of sensible area programs. The federal government, by means of NASA or the Division of Protection, ought to make obtainable the required bodily amenities in addition to any extraordinary monetary assist required to make the undertakings profitable.

Organizational equipment is required throughout the government department of the federal government to hold out this civilian area program. [19]


  1. Make the Area Council an efficient company for managing the nationwide area program.
  2. Set up a single accountability throughout the army institutions for managing the army portion of the area program.
  3. Present a vigorous, imaginative, and technically competent high administration for NASA, together with:
    • (a) Administrator and deputy administrator
    • (b)
    • i A technical director for propulsion and autos
    • ii A technical director for the scientific program
    • iii A technical director for the non-military area functions
    • iv A technical director for aerodynamic and plane packages
  4. Evaluate the nationwide area program and redefine the aims in view of the expertise gained throughout the previous two years. Explicit consideration must be given the booster program, manned area know-how, army makes use of of area to the civilian actions of the nation,
  5. Set up the organizational equipment throughout the authorities to manage an industry-government civilian area program.

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