PART III : 1958-1959

9. The Early U.S. Space Program



Consolidation of Military Space Projects


[178] In his 9 January 1958 State-of-the-Union message, President Eisenhower spoke of the need for a single focal point for advanced military projects, including anti-missile and satellite technology. Four days later, Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy told the House Armed Services Committee that he was establishing an Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) responsible to him for anti-missiles and outer space projects. ARPA was formally established on 7 February with Roy W. Johnson, a former executive vice president of the General Electric Company, as the director and Rear Admiral John Clark as his deputy. A month later, Herbert F. York, director of the [179] Livermore Laboratory of the Atomic Energy Commission and associate director of the department of physics of the University of California, was appointed chief scientist. ARPA had authority over all military space activities.9


On 27 March, President Eisenhower approved ARPA's plans for space exploration as announced by Secretary of Defense McElroy. When a new civilian space agency was organized, it would take over the non-military space programs. ARPA's plans included earth satellites and space probes for scientific investigations, the latter as part of the International Geophysical Year program. Losing no time, ARPA authorized the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division to launch three lunar probes with Thor-Vanguard vehicles and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to launch deep space probes with the new Jupiter IRBM equipped with the same cluster of solid rocket stages that had placed Explorer I in orbit. The original FY 1959 budget request of $340 million for ARPA was raised to $520 million.10


Not long after he went to ARPA, York met David A. Young of Aerojet and invited him to work with him. Young, who had worked with liquid hydrogen and oxygen in the late 1940s (p.33), accepted.11 He was among the first of a number of highly competent rocket and missile experts recruited for ARPA by Johnson, Clark, and York. These experts, hired and paid by the Institute of Defense Analysis, a private firm that provided technical and administrative services for ARPA, received the same salary as they did from their former employer. Young recruited Richard B. Canright from Douglas Aircraft, where he had been assistant chief engineer of missile systems. Prior to that, Canright had conducted research at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology on liquid and solid propellant rockets. Canright, a knowledgeable and experienced propulsion expert, was well familiar with hydrogen. He had operated a rocket on gaseous hydrogen and oxygen in the early 1940s (fn, p. 34) and wrote a paper in 1947 on the relative importance of specific impulse and density for long-range rockets (pp.47-48). He and David Young were members of the NACA subcommittee on rocket engines and staunch supporters of the NACA high-energy rocket program. From the Air Force came dynamic and aggressive Richard S. Cesaro. He was recommended to York by Richard Horner, assistant secretary of the Air Force for R&D, and came to ARPA in June.12 Cesaro, a long-time employee of NACA in propulsion research and committee management, had moved to the Air Research and Development Command headquarters in January and was the technical director for aeronautics and astronautics. Cesaro was a master at maneuvers in government decision-making processes, a technical gadfly, and an aggressive proponent for using advanced technology.13


By early June, a number of experts were working for ARPA and York assigned them to a number of ad hoc panels to plan and initiate military space programs.*


Canright organized an informal panel on vehicles and he persuaded some of his colleagues-Cesaro, Youngquist, Irvine, and Young-to serve on it. In mid-June 1958, [180] Canright and Young were asked by Johnson to present ARPA's plans to a panel oft he National Security Council. Canright made two recommendations on vehicles and engines: use a cluster of proven rocket engines for large vehicles, and use hydrogen and oxygen as propellants in upper stages. To Canright, using multiple rocket engines for space vehicles was an extension of aircraft practice, where trie redundancy of multiple engines was a tried and proven method of achieving reliability. According to Canright, the panel accepted his recommendations, and he later took advantage of this apparent endorsement to push for his ideas in ARPA planning. Richard Cesaro, long a proponent of high energy fuels for air-breathing engines and rockets, also favored the use of hydrogen-oxygen as propeliants for upper stages. He, like Canright, supported the use of multiple engines for large vehicles.14


* John F. Kincaid to solid propellant chemistry, Samuel B. Batdorf to man-in-space, Charles R. Irvine and Capt. R. C. Truax to Project 117-L, Arthur J. Stosick to large engines, David A. Young to communication relays, Roger B. Warner to metorology, Richard B. Canright to scientific satellites, Col. Dent L. Lay to Project ARGUS, Roberston Youngquist to exploratory research, and Richard S. Cesaro to satellite tracking.