MACLEAN'S REPORTS

U.S. REPORT

The race to the moon cools off: Russia and the U. S. may try it together

IAN SCLANDERS September 7 1963
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

U.S. REPORT

The race to the moon cools off: Russia and the U. S. may try it together

IAN SCLANDERS September 7 1963

U.S. REPORT

The race to the moon cools off: Russia and the U. S. may try it together

IAN SCLANDERS

JOHN KENNEDY still manages to talk with glowing enthusiasm about the race to the moon. But for many Americans the excitement has gone from what was once hailed as the greatest adventure in history. There is open skepticism as to whether a safe lunar landing will ever be possible, doubt as to whether it will be worth the effort even, if it is possible, and resentment of the cost U. S. taxpayers will have to shoulder.

When the five-and-a-half-billion-dollar budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was being considered in the Senate recently, Frank Lausche, a Democrat from Ohio, said he had yet to hear one good reason for rushing a man to the moon by 1970 — President Kennedy’s avowed goal. Senator Joseph Clark, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, asserted that he would rather see the money spent for unmet social needs.

In the end, the NASA estimates, trimmed by two hundred million dollars, squeaked through the Senate by five votes. They had met stormy sailing earlier in the House of Representatives. NASA expenditures are distributed through most of the United States in thousands of contracts and subcontracts, and U. S. politicians, like their Canadian counterparts, are reluctant to oppose programs that stimulate business and increase employment at home. Thus the criticism of NASA and its budget was, beyond question, a strong indication that space travel and, in particular, the moon trip are losing their glamour. What happened?

LOVELL, WEBB AND A RED OVERTURE

For one thing, the reason Americans decided they should dispatch humans to the moon before the decade expired was that they were stung by Russia’s successes in space. They would prove to the Russians, and to the world, that whatever the Russians could do, they could do better. The lunar contest was the way to dramatize this, no matter how high the price. But now that a fair amount of water has run under the bridge, cooler-headed Americans think it’s less important to show the Russians what the U. S. can do than to make sure that billions of dollars are spent to the best advantage and that lives are not carelessly risked.

For another thing, Americans are no longer

certain that the moon race is really a race. Practically everybody in the U. S. was convinced, as lately as last spring, that the Soviets were working day and night to reach the moon first and claim it as their own. But now, according to a letter from the British astronomer, Sir Bernard Lovell, to James Webb, head of NASA, the Russians have rejected, temporarily at least, plans for a manned lunar landing.

Lovell’s letter, and Webb’s reply, have been placed on public record by the chairman of the Senate space committee, Clinton Anderson, a Democrat from New Mexico. Lovell said the Soviets had asked him to sound out U. S. authorities on a joint U. S.-Soviet moon project. Lovell, who visited Russia this summer as a guest of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, said that scientists there could not see how moon travelers could be protected from lethal solar radiation, and that they thought moon data might be obtained more efficiently by instruments than by men.

The suggestion of the Soviet academy was that there should be an international gathering of space experts to determine why it is desirable to land men on the moon and to draw up a list of the jobs that men could perform on the moon but machines couldn’t. The next step would be a pooling of resources to overcome the danger from solar radiation and to solve the extremely difficult problem of a safe return from the moon.

Webb told Lovell that “if the Soviet academy is indeed interested in the matters you describe in your letter, we will look forward to the possibility of further exploration by Dr. Dryden and academician Blagonravov as to their views and desires.” Hugh Dryden. deputy administrator of NASA, and Anatoli Blagonravov of the Soviet Academy last year negotiated the first American-Soviet space agreement, which provides for satellite schemes for weather, communications and mapping.

A CHANCE TO QUIT WITHOUT SHAME

There are congressmen who see in the feeler Lovell relayed for the Soviets a chance to take the United States out of a perhaps ill-advised and terribly expensive competition. They recall that while John Kennedy has been the chief advocate of putting an American on the moon by 1970 he is also the leader who promised in his first State of the Union message in January, 1961, to investigate “areas of co-operation with the Soviet Union and other nations to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors.” It is plain that the sort of international teamwork the Soviet Union now seems to want would not be inconsistent with the policy Kennedy enunciated a few days after his inauguration.

It is also plain that many Americans have an uneasy suspicion that when Kennedy later

committed them to the conquest of the moon, he did so without thinking it through. Not long ago, Eisenhower said: “I have never believed that a spectacular dash to the moon, vastly deepening our debt, is worth the added tax burden it will impose upon our citizens.” Senator Kenneth Keating, New York Republican, has pointed out that NASA has seven times as many scientists working on space projects as the National Institute of Health has working on research into heart diseases, mental disorders and cancer. Spokesmen for industry have complained that NASA grabs a disproportionate share of the available scientists. And Democratic Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas has said that education and urban renewal should both take precedence over the lunar landing. Kennedy, confronted by these protests and by a realization that NASA’s budget has been rising like a rocket at Cape Canaveral, may yet look with favor on the approach of the Soviet academy.