Diplomacy and Conflict • The Arms Race
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1 into space, and it became the first artificial satellite to successfully orbit the Earth. This historical accomplishment by the Soviets, coming during the tense early years of the Cold War, shocked the American people and the U.S. government. On October 8, President Dwight D. Eisenhower took part in a conference on Sputnik that included many top scientists working for the government, including Detlev Bronk, the president of the National Academy of Sciences; John P. Hagen, director of the Vanguard Project, a U.S. effort to launch an artificial satellite; and Donald Quarles, deputy secretary of defense for research and development. The next day, Brigadier General A. J. Goodpaster, staff secretary and defense liaison, submitted a memorandum that outlined what was discussed at the meeting. The two-page document, which was marked "SECRET," was declassified by the government on November 17, 1976.
MEMORANDUM OF CONFERENCE WITH THE PRESIDENT
October 8, 1957, 8:30 AM
Secretary Quarles began by reviewing a memorandum prepared in Defense for the President on the subject of the earth satellite (dated October 7, 1957). He left a copy with the President. He reported that the Soviet launching on October 4th had apparently been highly successful.
The President asked Secretary Quarles about the report that had come to his attention to the effect that Redstone could have been used and could have placed a satellite in orbit many months ago. Secretary Quarles said there was no doubt that the Redstone, had it been used, could have orbited a satellite a year or more ago. The Science Advisory Committee had felt, however, that it was better to have the earth satellite proceed separately from military development. One reason was to stress the peaceful character of the effort, and a second was to avoid the inclusion of materiel, to which foreign scientists might be given access, which is used in our own military rockets. He said that the Army feels it could erect a satellite four months from now if given the order—this would still be one month prior to the estimated date for the Vanguard. The President said that when this information reaches Congress, they are bound to ask why this action was not taken. He recalled, however, that timing was never given too much importance in our own program, which was tied to the IGY [International Geophysical Year] and confirmed that, in order for all scientists to be able to look as the instrument, it had to be kept away from military secrets. Secretary Quarles pointed out that the Army plan would require some modification of the instrumentation in the missile.
He went on to add that the Russians have in fact done us a good turn, unintentionally, in establishing the concept of freedom of international peace—this seems to be generally accepted as orbital space, in which the missile is making an inoffensive passage.
The President asked what kind of information could be conveyed by the signals reaching us from the Russian satellite. Secretary Quarles said the Soviets say that it is simple a pulse to permit location of the missile through radar direction finders. Following the meeting, Dr. Waterman indicated that there is some kind of modulation on the signals, which may mean that some coding is being done, although it might conceivably be accidental.
The President asked the group to look ahead five years, and asked about a reconnaissance vehicle. Secretary Quarles said the Air Force has a research program in this area and gave a general description of the project.
Governor Adams recalled that Dr. Pusey had said that we had never thought of this as a crash program, as the Russians apparently did. We were working simply to develop and transmit scientific knowledge. The President thought that to make a sudden shift in our approach now would be to belie the attitude we have had all along. Secretary Quarles said that such a shift would create service tensions in the Pentagon. Mr. Holaday said he planned to study with the Army the back up of the Navy program with the Redstone, adapting it to the instrumentation.
There was some discussion concerning the Soviet request as to whether we would like to put instruments of ours aboard one of their satellites. He said our instruments would be ready for this. Several present pointed out that our instruments contain parts which, if made available to the Russians, would give them substantial technological information.
A. J. Goodpaster
Brigadier General, USA
"Memorandum of Sputnik Conference (1957)." American History, ABC-CLIO, 2019, americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1224491. Accessed 20 Sept. 2019.
Entry ID: 2174297