Brown's Lunar Exploration Working Group

Michael's Paper on a "Parking Orbit"

The Rendezvous Committees

Houbolt's First Crusade

The Feelings Against Lunar-Orbit Rendezvous

The Space Task Group's Early Skepticism

Mounting Frustration

President Kennedy's Commitment

Houbolt's First Letter to Seamans

A Voice in the Wilderness

The LOR Decision



Key Documents
(pdf version)


  President Kennedy's Commitment

Houbolt's briefing to the STG came at the end of a humbling week for America. On 12 April, the Soviets beat the United States in sending the first human into space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Three days later, with President Kennedy's hesitant approval, a confused and ultimately humiliated invasion force prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) landed at Cuba's Bay of Pigs, only to be driven back quickly by an unexpectedly efficient army of 20,000 led by communist Fidel Castro. Pierre Salinger, Kennedy's articulate press secretary, later called this "the three grimmest days" of the Kennedy presidency. It was a period of national crisis that proved in same ways to be more urgent than even the troubled aftermath of the Sputniks.69

Up to this time, NASA had been preparing for a lunar landing mission as its long-term goal in space. Some visionaries in NASA, such as George Low, wanted to do it sooner rather than later and were working to convince NASA leadership, now headed by a new Administrator, James E. Webb (Glennan resigned in early 1961, with the change from a Republican to a Democratic administration), that such a program should be pushed at the politicians. Not all the politicians needed to be pushed. Most notably, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was pressing NASA for a larger and more ambitious space program that included a lunar landing program.70 President Kennedy was actually the one who needed to be convinced. The Gagarin flight and the Bay of Pigs fiasco, followed by the welcome relief and excitement of Alan Shepard's successful Mercury flight on 5 May, were enough to convince him. Sputniks I and II had occurred during the previous Republican administration and had helped the dynamic young senator from Massachusetts beat former Vice President Richard M. Nixon in the 1960 election. But now, in just the past month, Kennedy's "New Frontier" had been undermined by crisis. The confidence of the American people needed to be restored. Something had to provoke the country into rebounding from its recent second-place finishes in the space race and national humiliation.71 On 25 May John Kennedy announced that landing American astronauts on the Moon was the way to restore confidence.

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