National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Key Documents from the Apollo Space Program



The memorandum that follows led directly to the Apollo program. By posing the question "Is there any . . . space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?" President Kennedy set in motion a review that concluded that only a crash effort to send Americans to the Moon met the criteria Kennedy had laid out. This memorandum followed a week of discussion within the White House on how best to respond to the challenge to U.S. interests posed by the 12 April 1961 orbital flight of Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.


April 20, 1961


In accordance with our conversation I would like for you as Chairman of the Space Council to be in charge of making an overall survey of where we stand in space.

1. Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space, or by a trip round the moon, or by a rocket to land on the moon, or by a rocket to go to the moon and back with a man. Is there any other space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?

2. How much additional would it cost?

3. Are we working 24 hours a day on existing programs. If not, why not? If not, will you make recommendations to me as to how work can be speeded up.

4. In building large boosters should we put our emphasis on nuclear, chemical or liquid fuel, or a combination of these three?

5. Are we making maximum effort? Are we achieving necessary results?

I have asked Jim Webb, Dr. Weisner, Secretary McNamara and other responsible officials to cooperate with you fully. I would appreciate a report on this at the earliest possible moment.

[Signed] John F. Kennedy

  • Back to Contents


    This memorandum, prepared by Edward Welsh, new Executive Secretary of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, and signed by Vice President Johnson, was the first report to President Kennedy on the results of the review he had ordered of the space program on 20 April 1961. It identified a human Lunar landing by 1966 or 1967 as the first dramatic space project in which the United States could beat the Soviet Union. Vice President Johnson identified U.S. "leadership" in the world arena as sufficient justification of this undertaking in space.


    April 28, 1961


    Subject: Evaluation of Space Program.

    Reference is to your April 20 memorandum asking certain questions regarding this country's space program.

    A detailed survey has not been completed in this time period. The examination will continue. However, what we have obtained so far from knowledgeable and responsible persons makes this summary reply possible.

    Among those who have participated in our deliberations have been the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense; General Schriever (AF); Admiral Hayward (Navy); Dr. von Braun (NASA); the Administrator, Deputy Administrator, and other top officials of NASA; the Special Assistant to the President on Science and Technology; representatives of the Director of the Bureau of the Budget; and three outstanding non-Government citizens of the general public: Mr. George Brown (Brown & Root, Houston, Texas); Mr. Donald Cook (American Electric Power Service, New York, N.Y.); and Mr. Frank Stanton (Columbia Broadcasting System, New York, N.Y.).

    The following general conclusions can be reported:

    a. Largely due to their concentrated efforts and their earlier emphasis upon the development of large rocket engines, the Soviets are ahead of the United States in world prestige attained through impressive technological accomplishments in space.

    b. The U.S. has greater resources than the USSR for attaining space leadership but has failed to make the necessary hard decisions and to marshal those resources to achieve such leadership.

    c. This country should be realistic and recognize that other nations, regardless of their appreciation of our idealistic values, will tend to align themselves with the country which they believe will be the world leader--the winner in the long run. Dramatic accomplishments in space are being increasingly identified as a major indicator of world leadership.

    d. 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 during this decade. This will be difficult but can be made probable even recognizing the head start of the Soviets and the likelihood that they will continue to move forward with impressive successes. In certain areas, such as communications, navigation, weather, and mapping, the U.S. can and should exploit its existing advance position.

    e. If we do not make the strong effort now, the time will soon be reached when the margin of control over space and over men's minds through space accomplishments will have swung so far on the Russian side that we will not be able to catch up, let alone assume leadership.

    f. Even in those areas in which the Soviets already have the capability to be first and are likely to improve upon such capability, the United States should make aggressive efforts as the technological gains as well as the international rewards are essential steps in eventually gaining leadership. The danger of long lags or outright omissions by this country is substantial in view of the possibility of great technological breakthroughs obtained from space exploration.

    g. Manned exploration of the moon, for example, is not only an achievement with great propaganda value, but it is essential as an objective whether or not we are first in its accomplishment--and we may be able to be first. We cannot leapfrog such accomplishments, as they are essential sources of knowledge and experience for even greater successes in space. We cannot expect the Russians to transfer the benefits of their experiences or the advantages of their capabilities to us. We must do these things ourselves.

    h. The American public should be given the facts as to how we stand in the space race, told of our determination to lead in that race, and advised of the importance of such leadership to our future.

    i. More resources and more effort need to be put into our space program as soon as possible. We should move forward with a bold program, while at the same time taking every practical precaution for the safety of the persons actively participating in space flights.

    As for the specific questions posed in your memorandum, the following brief answers develop from the studies made during the past few days. These conclusions are subject to expansion and more detailed examination as our survey continues.

    Q.1- 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, or by a rocket to go to the moon and back with a man. Is there any other space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?

    A.1- The Soviets now have a rocket capability for putting a multi-manned laboratory into space and have already crash-landed a rocket on the moon. They also have the booster capability of making a soft landing on the moon with a payload of instruments, although we do not know how much preparation they have made for such a project. As for a manned trip around the moon or a safe landing and return by a man to the moon, neither the U.S. nor the USSR has such capability at this time, so far as we know. The Russians have had more experience with large boosters and with flights of dogs and man. Hence they might be conceded a time advantage in circumnavigation of the moon and also in a manned trip to the moon. However, with a strong effort, the United States could conceivably be first in those two accomplishments by 1966 or 1967.

    There are a number of programs which the United States could pursue immediately and which promise significant world-wide advantage over the Soviets. Among these are communications satellites, and navigation and mapping satellites. These are all areas in which we have already developed some competence. We have such programs and believe that the Soviets do not. Moreover, they are programs which could be made operational and effective within reasonably short periods of time and could, if properly programmed with the interests of other nations, make useful strides toward world leadership.

    Q.2- How much additional would it cost?

    A.2- To start upon an accelerated program with the aforementioned objectives clearly in mind, NASA has submitted an analysis indicating that about $500 million would be needed for FY 1962 over and above the amount currently requested of the Congress. A program based upon NASA's analysis would, over a ten-year period, average approximately $1 billion a year above the current estimates of the existing NASA program.

    While the Department of Defense plans to make a more detailed submission to me within a few days, the Secretary has taken the position that there is a need for a strong effort to develop a large solid-propellant boosted and that his Department is interested in undertaking such a project. It was understood that this would be programmed in accord with the existing arrangement for close cooperation with NASA, which Agency is undertaking some research in this field. He estimated they would need to employ approximately $50 million during FY 1962 for this work but that this could be financed through management of funds already requested in the FY 1962 budget. Future defense budgets would include requests for additional funding for this purpose; a preliminary estimate indicates that about $500 million would be needed in total.

    Q.3- Are we working 24 hours a day on existing programs? If not, why not? If not, will you make recommendations to me as to how work can be speeded up?

    A.3- There is not a 24-hour-a-day work schedule on existing NASA space programs except for selected areas in Project Mercury, the Saturn-C-1 booster, the Centaur engines and the final launching phases of most flight missions. They advise that their schedules have been geared to the availability of facilities and financial resources, and that hence their overtime and 3-shift arrangements exist only in those activities in which there are particular bottlenecks or which are holding up operations in other parts of the programs. For example, they have a 3-shift 7-day-week operation in certain work at Cape Canaveral; the contractor for Project Mercury has averaged a 54-hour week and employs two or three shifts in some areas; Saturn C-1 at Huntsville is working around the clock during critical test periods while the remaining work on this project averages a 47-hour week; the Centaur hydrogen engine is on a 3-shift basis in some portions of the contractor's plants.

    This work can be speeded up through firm decisions to go ahead faster if accompanied by additional funds needed for the acceleration.

    Q.4- In building large boosters should we put our emphasis on nuclear, chemical or liquid fuel, or a combination of these three?

    A.4- It was the consensus that liquid, solid and nuclear boosters should all be accelerated. This conclusion is based not only upon the necessity for back-up methods, but also because of the advantages of the different types of boosters for different missions. A program of such emphasis would meet both so-called civilian needs and defense requirements.

    Q.5- Are we making maximum effort? Are we achieving necessary results?

    A.5- We are neither making maximum effort nor achieving results necessary if this country is to reach a position of leadership.

    [signed] Lyndon B. Johnson

  • Back to Contents


    John F. Kennedy unveiled the commitment to execute Project Apollo before Congress on 25 May 1961 in a speech on "Urgent National Needs," billed as a second State of the Union message. In the speech he asked for support to accomplish four basic goals in space exploration, only the Lunar landing is usually remembered. In addition, he asked for congressional appropriations for weather satellites, communications satellites, and the Rover nuclear propulsion rocket. Congress agreed to all of them with barely any comment. As seen in this excerpt from the speech, Kennedy couched the space program in the context of the cold war rivalry with the Soviet Union:

    . . . Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides--time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

    I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

    Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of leadtime, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

    I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:

    First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations -- explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook; the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon-- if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

    Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.

    Third, an additional 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications.

    Fourth, an additional 75 million dollars--of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau--will help give us at the earliest possible time a satellite system for world-wide weather observation.

    Let it be clear--and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make--let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action--a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal '62--and estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.

    Now this is a choice which this country must make, and I am confident that under the leadership of the Space Committees of the Congress, and the Appropriating Committees, that you will consider the matter carefully.

    It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventure in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.

    I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

    This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

    New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further--unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space. . . .

  • Back to Contents


    Criticism of the priority assigned to the space program, and particularly Project Apollo, increased in 1963. Congress tried unsuccessfully, for example, to delete $700 million from the NASA appropriation for Apollo. As a result, on 9 April 1963 Kennedy asked Lyndon Johnson as head of the National Aeronautics and Space Council for a careful review of the program. Johnson replied on 13 May with a lengthy report that emphasized the positive results of the space program and noted challenges that it posed. In the end, as these excerpts suggest, Johnson's report reflected the administration's continued commitment to an aggressive Lunar landing program for international prestige, scientific, and cost benefit reasons.


    1. It cannot be questioned that billions of dollars directed into research and development in an orderly and thoughtful manner will have a significant effect upon our national economy. No formula has been found which attributes specific dollar values to each of the areas of anticipated developments, however, the "multiplier" of space research and development will augment our economic strength, our peaceful posture, and our standard of living.

    2. Even though specific dollar values cannot be set for these benefits, a mere listing of the fields which will be affected is convincing evidence that the benefits will be substantial. The benefits include:

    a. Additional knowledge about the earth and the Sun's influence on the earth, the nature of interplanetary space environment, and the origin of the solar system as well as of life itself.

    b. Increased ability and experience in managing major research and development efforts, expansion of capital facilities, encouragement of higher standards of quality production,

    c. Accelerated use of liquid oxygen in steelmaking, coatings for temperature control of housing, efficient transfer of chemical energy into electrical energy, and wide-range advances in electronics.

    d. Development of effective filters against detergents; increased accuracy (and therefore reduced costs) in measuring hot steel rods; improved medical equipment in human care; stimulation of the use of fiberglass refractory welding tape, high energy metal forming processes; development of new coatings for plywood and furniture; use of frangible tube energy absorption systems that can be adapted to absorbing shocks of failing elevators and emergency aircraft landings.

    e. Improved communications, improved weather forecasting, improved forest fire detection, and improved navigation.

    f. Development of high temperature gas-cooled graphite moderated reactors and liquid metal cooled reactors; development of radioisotope power sources for both military and civilian uses; development of instruments for monitoring degrees of radiation; and application of thermoelectric and thermionic conversion of heat to electric energy.

    g. Improvements in metals, alloys, and ceramics.

    h. An augmentation of the supply of highly trained technical manpower.

    i. Greater strength for the educational system both through direct grants, facilities and scholarships and through setting goals that will encourage young people.

    j. An expansion of the base for peaceful cooperation among nations.

    k. Military competence. (It is estimated that between $600 and $675 million of NASA's FY 1964 budget would be needed for military space projects and would be budgeted by the Defense Department, if they were not already provided for in the NASA budget.)


    1. The introduction of a vital new element into an economy always creates new problems but, otherwise, the nation's space program creates no major complications. The program has, to a lesser magnitude, the same problems which Defense budgets and programs have been creating for several years.

    2. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no solid evidence that research and development in industry is suffering significantly from a diversion of technical manpower to the space program. NASA estimates that:

    a. The nation's pool of scientists and engineers was 1,400,000 as of January l, 1963.

    b. NASA programs employed 42,000 of these scientists and engineers --- only 9,000 directly on NASA payrolls.

    c. On this basis, the NASA space program currently draws upon only 3% of the national pool of scientists and engineers.

    d. Taking into account anticipated expansion, NASA programs are not expected to absorb more than 7% of our country's total supply of scientists and engineers.

    3. The majority of the technical people working for NASA fall in the category of engineering. However, NASA's education programs are designed to help the universities train additions to the nation's technical manpower needs.

    4. NASA has undertaken to support the annual graduate training of 1000 Ph.D.s, 1/4 of the estimated overall shortage of 4,000 per year. This program would more than replace those drawn upon by the agency.

    5. In overall terms, NASA finds that diversion of manpower and resources is not a major problem arising from the space program. A major problem, however, is the need to minimize waste and inefficiency. To help meet this challenge, turnover of top level Government talent should be reduced and compensation more in line with responsibilities would contribute to this objective. . . .


    There is one further point to be borne in mind. The space program is not solely a question of prestige, of advancing scientific knowledge, of economic benefit or of military development, although all of these factors are involved. Basically, a much more fundamental issue is at stake--whether a dimension that can well dominate history for the next few centuries will be devoted to the social system of freedom or controlled by the social system of communism.

    The United States has made clear that it does not seek to "dominate" space and, in fact, has led the way in securing international cooperation in this field. But we cannot close our eyes as to what would happen if we permitted totalitarian systems to dominate the environment of the earth itself. For this reason our space program has an overriding urgency that cannot be calculated solely in terms of industrial, scientific, or military development. The future of society is at stake.

  • Back to Contents


    After eight years of all-out effort, nearly $20 billion expended, and three astronauts' deaths, on 20 July 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. The two astronauts who set foot on the surface, Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin, called it in what later astronauts thought of as an understatement, "magnificent desolation." This document contains the radio transmissions of the landing and Armstrong's first venture out onto the Lunar surface. The "CC" in the transcript is Houston Mission Control, CDR is Neil Armstrong, and LMP is Buzz Aldrin.
    04 06 45 52....CC....We copy you down, Eagle [the name of the Lunar Module].

    04 06 45 57....CDR....Houston, Tranquility Base here.

    04 06 45 59....CDR....THE EAGLE HAS LANDED.

    04 06 46 04....CC....Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.

    04 06 46 16....CDR....Thank you.

    04 06 46 18....CC....You're looking good here.

    04 06 46 23....CDR....Okay. We're going to be busy for a minute. .

    . .
    04 06 46 38....LMP....Very smooth touchdown. . . .

    04 06 47 03....LMP....Okay. It looks like we're venting the oxidizer now. . . .

    04 06 47 09....CC....Eagle you are STAY for T1 [one day on Moon].

    04 06 47 12....CDR....Roger. Understand, STAY for T1. . . .

    04 13 23 38....CDR....[After suiting up and exiting the Lunar Module (LM), Armstrong was ready to descend to the Moon's surface]. I'm at the foot of the ladder. The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about 1 or 2 inches, although the surface appears to be very, very fine grained, as you get close to it. It's almost like a power. Down there, it's very fine.

    04 13 23 43....CDR....I'm going to step off the LM now.


    04 13 24 48....CDR....And the--the surface is fine and powdery. I can--I can pick it up loosely with my toe. It does adhere in fine layers like powdered charcoal to the sole and sides of my boots. I only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch, but I can see the footprints of my boots and the treads in the fine, sandy particles.

    04 13 25 30....CC....Neil, this is Houston. We're copying.

    04 13 25 45....CDR....There seems to be no difficulty in moving around as we suspected. It's even perhaps easier than the simulations at one-sixth g that we performed in the various simulations on the ground. It's actually no trouble to walk around. Okay. The descent engine did not leave a crater of any size. It has about 1 foot clearance on the ground. We're essentially on a very level place here. I can see some evidence of rays emanating from the descent engine, but a very insignificant amount. . . .
    Back to Contents

    Author: Brian Dunbar
    Curator: Jim Gass

    Accessibility/Section 508