Richard Nixon photo

Statement of the Vice President of the United States on Space Exploration, Cincinnati, OH

October 25, 1960

Future generations will look upon our time - the middle of the 20th century - as one of the most decisive periods in human history. We are fortunate to live in such a time. Why is it decisive? First because we are in the process of determining - once and for all time - the character of the first global human society. Will it be a society founded in the richness of faith, of morality, of freedom, of human dignity? Or will it be founded in the barren concept that man is only to be a disciplined cipher in a regimented order in a chaotic universe? There is monumental meaning in this outcome for millions of humans yet unborn. We must have the strength and inspiration and wisdom to make it evolve as it should.

Another reason this epoch is decisive is because man is now taking his first faltering steps into that vast unknown we call space.

We have talked a good bit in this presidential campaign - though still not enough - about the first reason, the climactic struggle between atheistic tyranny and individual freedom with faith. In this statement I want to explore the second, America's venture into space.

Why do we strive to reach out into space where, to say the least, things seem inhospitable for humanity - indeed, for any form of life that we now know? Who would want - and why would he want - to spend perhaps a lifetime in the cramped quarters of a spaceship subsisting on algae, existing in a controlled environment where everything - his breath, his body moisture - has to be recycled to sustain life?

The question is not easy to answer in terms of positive benefits. To be sure the moon might figuratively be considered the high ground of the immediate military future, where a forward outpost might dominate the earth because of superior observation and easier missile launchings. But as real estate this airless dust-covered natural satellite of earth seems at present to have little growth potential for human beings.

The best answer is that we just don't know - that we cannot know as yet why there is reward in exploring space. This has been the story of all exploration in the past, whether scientific or geographic. Columbus, we recall, thought he was discovering a short route to the Indies, but actually he discovered a hemisphere - a new world - the other side of the planet he had known. Many of our great scientific discoveries have come about in the same way - an inquisitive mind searching for something, stumbling instead on an unexpected truth, and he or his successors recognizing it.

In one of my many participations in official discussions of our space programs, the expected benefits from exploring space were listed on a blackboard. These included greatly improved knowledge of our earthly weather, better understanding of cosmic radiation, better understanding of the birth and death of stars and planets.

A very wise scientist told us: "Gentlemen, you may forget everything I have just said if you will remember one thing. Probably the most important thing we will discover in space is not on this blackboard." It wasn't there simply because the scientists do not know what it will turn out to be, just as Columbus did not know he was going to trip over a hemisphere.

We will lead the exploration of space because discovery is one of the tests of the vitality of a people. We can no more leave this task to George - or to Ivan - and still maintain our world leadership than England could have left the new world entirely to Spain and still have become the first power of the world during the two centuries that ushered in the modern era. Make no mistake about it - the entry into space is just as competitive as was the opening of the new world.

Senator Kennedy attempts to hitch his political wagon to the Soviet sputnik, charging that the Eisenhower administration is allowing the Soviets to outdistance us in the exploration of space.

It is irresponsibility of the worst sort for an American presidential candidate to obscure the truth about America's magnificent achievements in space in an attempt to win votes.

Let's look at the record.

We entered the space competition some paces behind. We paid a penalty because the Truman administration discounted and ignored implications of the long-range rocket. We were slow because that administration in the years between 1945 and 1950 relied entirely on our lead in nuclear weapons and strategic bombers. Not until President Eisenhower took office in 1953 did the United States begin serious work on the intercontinental ballistic missile.

Because those responsible for our security before him did not feel a need for long-range missiles, the United States made no effort to match the post-World War II missiles programs of the Soviets which they in large measure seized as a prize of war from the Germans in the year just preceding the Korean war - the year the Soviets successfully exploded their first A-bomb - the Truman administration eliminated long-range missile development entirely. Among the projects wiped out was one which might have put the first U.S. satellite in orbit by 1952, 5 years before sputnik.

The Eisenhower administration has just about closed an inherited space gap. We have been hard at work on the related problem - the so-called missile gap - likewise inherited - and we have achieved great success.

With expenditures of more than a billion dollars a year, utilizing the great resourcefulness of the giant industrial complex of America, as well as that of the Federal Government, we have surpassed the Soviet lead in the space competition in all respects but that of rocket thrust - where the failures of the last administration handed the Soviets a several-year lead; and even that lead is soon to be surpassed.

To date, 36 space satellites and space probes have been successfully launched. The United States has launched 28 of those 36. Of greater importance than this superiority of sheer numbers is the character and the value of the accomplishments.

In the past year along the United States has put aloft the first meteorological satellite and opened a real breakthrough in the world's understanding and early prediction of the weather. We have demonstrated the feasibility of interplanetary communications. By balloon satellite we have opened revolutionary new methods for international radio and television transmission. Undergirding these more spectacular advances lie the solid advance we have made in fundamental knowledge of the universe in which we live - knowledge such as the discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belt, revelation of the pear shape of the earth and a multitude of other developments which has at times stretched our new information beyond our capacity to digest. Advances in physics, chemistry, metallurgy, ceramics, electronics, fuels - are among the fundamentals of our future progress.

These are some of the achievements of a space program which we have compressed into an extremely short period of time, as this sort of technological effort must be measured. It is a record in which President Eisenhower's Administration and all Americans can take justifiable pride and yet, our record at this point is only a preparation for the great ventures which are immediately ahead of us.

While the next President of the United States is still in office, the first American astronaut will almost surely complete true space flight.

It is possible that under programs now well underway, that the next President - should the voters grant him his constitutional two terms - will receive at the White house the first American astronauts to return from circumlunar flights around the moon. Programs already underway indicate that the decade of the sixties, for which Americans are now selecting their leadership, may outrank the discovery in the final decade of the 15th century, when Columbus sailed westward into the Atlantic.

What is in the making in our space program?

We are proceeding at top priority in developing space rockets of lifting power in excess of any the Soviets are developing according to information that I deem to be reliable. With our 1½ million-pound thrust Saturn vehicle we will take the lead in chemically powered space rockets.

During the term of office of the next President we will get the first nuclear-fueled engine capable of deep penetration into space.

In the period 1966-67 we will launch and operate a manned, permanent space station, orbiting at somewhere between 300 and 1,000 miles from the earth, to which our astronauts will go and come, and stage flights farther into space.

We will launch, in the period 1966-68, manned circumlunar flights. By the early 1970's we will launch manned spaceships to land on, and return from, the moon.

Of course, we cannot always lead all nations in all steps on the way into space, for each nation will pursue different programs with different emphasis.

But this I pledge: If the responsibility becomes mine on January 21, 1961, America will be second to no one in the long stride into space.

This effort, we should all understand, will be expensive. But I believe we should spend every dollar we can constructively and responsibly invest in the effort to quicken the exploration of the great new world - the new world of interplanetary space.

The challenge of the unknown is one that no nation as vital and youthful as America can fail to accept. Even if the Soviet Union had not challenged us in this forward thrust into the future, America would confront the choice of meeting or ignoring its responsibility to extend man's horizons of knowledge. In this respect we cannot, and we will not, fail.

Moreover, we have no intention of going forward in secrecy and alone, as the Soviets indicate is their intention. Our partner in this endeavor is all the free world.

Richard Nixon, Statement of the Vice President of the United States on Space Exploration, Cincinnati, OH Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives