Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

October 09, 1957

[Prior to the beginning of the conference, Mr. Hagerty distributed copies of a statement by the President summarizing facts in the development of an earth satellite by the United States. See Item 211.]

THE PRESIDENT. Please sit down.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Do you have any questions you would like to ask me?

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, Russia has launched an earth satellite. They also claim to have had a successful firing of an intercontinental ballistics missile, none of which this country has done. I ask you, sir, what are we going to do about it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, let's take, first, the earth satellite, as opposed to the missile, because they are related only indirectly in the physical sense, and in our case not at all.

The first mention that was made of an earth satellite that I know of, was about the spring of 1955--I mean the first mention to me--following upon a conference in Rome where plans were being laid for the working out of the things to be done in the International Geophysical Year.

Our people came back, studying a recommendation of that conference that we now undertake, the world undertake, the launching of a small earth satellite; and somewhere in I think May or June of 1955 it was recommended to me, by the Committee for the International Geophysical Year and through the National Science Foundation, that we undertake this project with a satellite to be launched somewhere during the Geophysical Year, which was from June 1957 until December 1958.

The sum asked for to launch a missile was $22 million and it was approved.

For the Government, the National Science Foundation was made the monitor of the work, for the simple reason that from the beginning the whole American purpose and design in this effort has been to produce the maximum in scientific information. The project was sold to me on this basis.

My question was: What does mankind hope to learn? And the answer of the scientists was, "We don't exactly know, and that is the reason we want to do it; but we do hope to learn lots of things about outer space that will be valuable to the scientific world."

They did mention such things as temperatures, radiation, ionization, pressures, I believe residual pressures, from such air as would be at the altitude where successful orbiting was possible.

That is the kind of information the scientists were looking for, and which they hoped to obtain from this project.

Now, in the first instance they thought they would merely put up a satellite, and very quickly they found they thought they could put up a satellite with a considerable instrumentation to get, even during the Geophysical Year, the kind of information to which I have just referred. So they came back, said they needed some more money. This time they went up to $66 million, and we said, "All right; that is--'m view of the fact we are conducting this basic research, this seems logical." So we did that.

Then they came back, and I forget which one of the steps it came along, and they realized when you put this machine in the air, you had to have some very specially equipped observation stations. So the money, the sum of money, again went up to provide for these observation stations. And so the final sum approved, I think about a year ago, something of that kind, was $110,000,000, with notice that that might have to go up even still more.

There never has been one nickel asked for accelerating the program. Never has it been considered as a race; merely an engagement on our part to put up a vehicle of this kind during the period that I have already mentioned.

Again emphasizing the nonmilitary character of the effort, we have kept the Geophysical Year Committees of other nations fully informed all the time as, for example, the frequencies we would use when we put this in the air so that everybody, all nations, could from the beginning track it exactly, know exactly where it was--I believe it was 108 megacycles we were to use, and that was agreed throughout the world.

We are still going ahead on this program to make certain that before the end of the calendar year 1958 we have put a vehicle in the air with the maximum ability that we can devise for obtaining the kind of scientific information that I have stated.

Now, every scientist that I have talked to since this occurred-I recalled some of them and asked them--every one of them has spoken in most congratulatory terms about the capabilities of the Russian scientists in putting this in the air.

They expressed themselves as pleased rather than chagrined because at least the Soviets have proved the first part of it, that this thing will successfully orbit. But there are a lot of other things in the scientific inquiry that are not yet answered, and which we are pushing ahead to answer.

Now that is the story on the satellite.

It is supplemented by a statement that we prepared this morning that has some of the basic facts, to include the sequence of events.

As to their firing of an intercontinental missile, we have not been told anything about the details of that firing. They have proved again and, indeed, this launching of the satellite proves, that they can hurl an object a considerable distance. They also said, as I recall that announcement, that it landed in the target area, which could be anywhere, because you can make target areas the size you please; and they also said it was a successful re-entry into the atmosphere, and landing at or near the target.

Now, that is a great accomplishment, if done. I have talked to you in the past about our own development in this regard as far as security considerations permit, and I can say this: the ICBM, the IRBM, we call them, are still going ahead--those projects-- on the top priority within the Government, incidentally a priority which was never accorded to the satellite program.

The satellite program, having an entirely different purpose, even the scientists did not even think of it as a security instrument; and the only way that the Defense Department is in it at all is because one of them, the Navy, was called upon as the agency to have the sites and the mechanisms for putting it into the air.

Q. Charles S. von Fremd, CBS News: Mr. President, Khrushchev claims we are now entering a period when conventional planes, bombers, and fighters will be confined to museums because they are outmoded by the missiles which Russia claims she has now perfected; and Khrushchev's remarks would seem to indicate he wants us to believe that our Strategic Air Command is now outmoded. Do you think that SAC is outmoded?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I believe it would be dangerous to predict what science is going to do in the next twenty years, but it is going to be a very considerable time in this realm just as in any other before the old is completely replaced by the new, and even then it will be a question of comparative costs and accuracy of methods of delivery.

It is going to be a long term. It is not a revolutionary process that will take place in the reequipping of defense forces, it will be an evolutionary.

Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Mr. President, do you think our scientists made a mistake in not recognizing that we were, in effect in a race with Russia in launching this satellite, and not asking you for top priority and more money to speed up the program?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, no, I don't, because even yet, let's remember this: the value of that satellite going around the earth is still problematical, and you must remember the evolution that our people went through and the evolution that the others went through.

From 1945, when the Russians captured all of the German scientists in Peenemunde, which was their great laboratory and experimental grounds for the production of the ballistic missiles they used in World War II, they have centered their attention on the ballistic missile.

Originally, our people seemed to be more interested in the aerodynamic missile. We have a history of going back for quite a ways in modest research in the intercontinental ballistic missile, but until there were very great developments in the atomic bomb, it did not look profitable and economical to pursue that course very much, and our people did not go into it very earnestly until somewhere along about 1953, I think.

Now, so far as this satellite itself is concerned, if we were doing it for science, and not for security, which we were doing, I don't know of any reasons why the scientists should have come in and urged that we do this before anybody else could do it.

Now, quite naturally, you will say, "Well, the Soviets gained a great psychological advantage throughout the world," and I think in the political sense that is possibly true; but in the scientific sense it is not true except for the proof of the one thing, that they have got the propellants and the projectors that will put these things in the air.

Q. Kenneth M. Scheibel, Gannett Newspapers: Mr. President, could you give the public any assurance that our own satellite program will be brought up to par with Russia or possibly an improvement on it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well now, let's get this straight: I am not a scientist. I go to such men as Dr. Waterman, Dr. Bronk, Dr. Lawrence, all of the great scientists of this country, and they assured me back in the spring, I think it was, of 1955 this could be done, and they asked for a very modest sum of money compared to the sums we were spending on other research. So, in view of the fact that, as I said before, this was basic research, I approved it.

Now, the satellite that we are planning to put in the air will certainly provide much more information, if it operates successfully throughout. According to plan, it will provide much more information than this one.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, you have spoken of the scientific aspects of the satellite. Do you not think that it has immense significance, the satellite, immense significance in surveillance of other countries, and leading to space platforms which could be used for rockets?

THE PRESIDENT. Not at this time, no. There is no--suddenly all America seems to become scientists, and I am hearing many, many ideas. [Laughter] And I think that, given time, satellites will be able to transmit to the earth some kind of information with respect to what they see on the earth or what they find on the earth.

But I think that that period is a long ways off when you stop to consider that even now the Russians, under a dictatorial society where they had some of the finest scientists in the world who have for many years been working on this, apparently from what they say they have put one small ball in the air.

I wouldn't believe that at this moment you have to fear the intelligence aspects of this.

Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: Mr. President, considering what we know of Russia's progress in the missile field, are you satisfied with our own progress in that field, or do you feel there have been unnecessary delays in our development of missiles?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't say there has been unnecessary delay. I know that from the time that I came here and got into the thing earnestly, we have done everything I can think of. I will say this: generally speaking, more than one scientist has told me we were actually spending some money where it was doing no good.

Now the great reason for spending more money is because of the number of strings you put on your bow. In almost every field we have had several types and kinds working ahead to find which would be the more successful, so I can't say that I am dissatisfied.

I can say this: I wish we were further ahead and knew more as to accuracy and to the erosion and to the heat-resistant qualities of metals and all the other things we have to know about. I wish we knew more about it at this moment.

Q. Mr. Burd: Is there some way that could have been done, something that could have been done that wasn't done?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'll tell you. Shortly after I came here I immediately assembled a group of scientists through the Defense Secretary to study the whole thing and to give us something on which we could proceed with confidence, or at least pursuing the greatest possibilities according to scientific conclusions.

That we have done, and I think we have done it very earnestly, with a great deal of expense, a great deal of time and effort, and I don't know what we could have done more.

Q. William H. Lawrence, New York Times: Mr. President, could you give us, sir, the American story, that is this Government's version of the incident that Mr. Khrushchev described to Mr. Reston in his interview when the Soviet Government put forth a feeler as to whether or not Marshal Zhukov would be welcomed in this country, and according to Mr. Khrushchev was rebuffed?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I will say this: about the rebuff I know nothing. If there was any committed, I am sure it was unintentional.

Now, what happened: You will recall somebody in one of these meetings asked me whether I thought that a meeting between Mr. Wilson and Marshal Zhukov might produce anything useful, and I said it might, and that later I was talking to the Secretary about it, and he said it was a hypothetical question and got a hypothetical answer. I don't know whether it would do any good or not; and he said, "Well, there is this one thing about it, we have got to beware"--and, of course, this we all know--"of bilateral talks when you have allies and comrades in very great ventures like we have in NATO, and so on." At that moment talks were going on in Britain on disarmament on a multilateral basis, and it would have probably had a very bad interpretation in the world if any such thing at that time had taken place.

The only follow-up that I know of, was somebody asked the State Department--it may have been an ambassador, I don't know, somebody asked the State Department--well, was this a serious thing? Was this an invitation? And he said exactly what I have just told you, it was merely a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question.

So far as I know, there has never been any additional activity in connection with it.

Q. J. Anthony Lewis, New York Times: Sir, a question on Little Rock. Do you share Representative Hays' view that the situation there may be stabilizing sufficiently so that law enforcement could soon be left to local authorities?

THE PRESIDENT. Certainly I am very hopeful. I didn't know he had expressed that as an opinion or conviction. I thought he said that it looked like this could happen. As quickly as the local people, as I told you last week, say that they have got the thing right in their hands, why, we no longer have a function there.

Q. Rod MacLeish, Westinghouse Broadcasting Company: Sir, getting back to the missile and satellite question, in answer to Mr. Smith's question, you were commenting on the Russian claims of developing an ICBM, and you said if done this is a great achievement. Is there doubt in your mind, sir, or in the minds--

THE PRESIDENT. I said--now, wait a minute--I said, "if done," when I said "if it's shot accurately to deliver its load at a predetermined spot, that was a very great achievement."

Q. Mr. MacLeish: My question would be, sir, what is our estimation of the Russian claim judged by your "if done" additionally?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not going to give you an estimate of the Russian claim. I will just say this: we weren't invited to witness it; I think that they have fired objects a very considerable distance, but I don't know anything about their accuracy, and until you know something of their accuracy, you know nothing at all about their usefulness in warfare.

Q. Mr. MacLeish: Mr. Wilson said yesterday he doubted they had an ICBM. Is that your view?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he was probably talking in these terms. I did not see his statement, so I am not commenting on his statement, I am just saying this: he may have been talking in terms of the perfection you need from a military weapon before it is really a weapon.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Russians apparently have a better launching device than we have. They have put their missile in the air, and they claim it is 25 percent stronger than the launching device for the ICBM. Now, my question is: Are we making any plans or going to spend any more money on our rocket program? In other words, has Mr. Holaday received new instructions?

THE. PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Holaday couldn't receive new instructions from me, for the simple reason that if he doesn't know more about it than I do, I am very foolish to have him there. Now, I have provided to the limit of my ability the money that they have asked for, and that is all I can do.

Q. Elizabeth S. Carpenter, Arkansas Gazette: Mr. President, from all the reports and information which has come to you during this Little Rock school crisis, is it your feeling that Central High School could have been peacefully integrated if Governor Faubus had not called out the Guard in the first place?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you are asking me to speculate on history after history has become such but I would say this--

Q. Mrs. Carpenter: But you do have FBI reports before you?

THE PRESIDENT. You do have this: at other points in Arkansas, integration took place, beginnings at integration particularly took place, without any disturbance whatsoever. I don't know of any particular reason why this one should have been different.

Q. Charles W. Bailey, Minneapolis Star and Tribune: Sir, can you tell us, sir, whether you had any advance information that a Russian satellite launching was imminent?

THE PRESIDENT. Not imminent. For a number of months different scientists have told me, or different people--I don't know whether it was ever told to me officially--that they were working on it, they were doing something about it; but again, no one ever suggested to me as anything of a race except, of course, more than once we would say, well, there is going to be a great psychological advantage in world politics to putting the thing up. But that didn't seem to be a reason, in view of the real scientific character of our development, there didn't seem to be a reason for just trying to grow hysterical about it.

Q. John Scali, Associated Press: Mr. President, to return to the Zhukov matter for a moment, sir, you said, in answer to an earlier question, that your reply at the news conference the last time on Mr. Zhukov was a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question. Could you tell us how you view the possibility of a visit by Marshal Zhukov today?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I should like to say this: As you know, we have many allies in the world, and anything that looks like a bilateral attempt to dictate to the world on the part of ourselves and any other country, we try carefully to avoid. So anything that we would do we would be certain to clear with our allies; and if everybody agreed, why, that would be one answer. If everybody was fearful, we would have to take that into consideration.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post: Is it a correct interpretation of what you have said about your satisfaction with the missile program as separate from the satellite program that you have no plans to take any steps to combine the various government units which are involved in this program, and which give certainly the public appearance of a great deal of service rivalry, with some reason to feel that this is why we seem to be lagging behind the Soviets?

THE PRESIDENT. Well now, Mr. Roberts, there seem to be certain facts that are obvious. First of all, I didn't say I was satisfied. I said I didn't know what we could have done better.

The cost of these duplicating, or seemingly duplicating, programs is quite enormous, and I would like to save it. But even now, where two in the IRBM class seem to have gone far enough that we should have some basis of comparison, at my direction there was set up a committee of experts to decide which way we should go; and they have decided--or did the last time, just certainly a few days ago--that they didn't have quite yet the basis of fact on which they could determine which was the best direction to go.

Now, in almost every field that I know of, air-to-air, ground-to-air, air-to-ground, ground-to-ground, ballistic missiles, aerodynamic, there are some of these programs that are overlapping all the time.

As I think I told you before, the last estimate I had on armed military research and development, the money we spend yearly without putting a single weapon in our arsenal is $5,200,000,000. Now that isn't any weak, pusillanimous effort; that is a lot of money.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, Senator Butler of Maryland says he is reliably informed that the Navy, if it wanted to, could launch a satellite right away quick. Do you know is that true? Are they sticking to schedule just for the purpose of--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he must have some information that I don't have.

Now, when the scientific community decided to put this thing with the Navy they looked over the thinking and the plans and the developments of the scientists connected with the several services before they decided on one, and at that time the Navy had one, I think it was called the Viking, and they assigned it because they thought that offered the greatest probability.

Now, I understand that other services have claimed they could have done this quicker, and so on. I don't know that any of the other services know all the problems that the Navy has encountered, but anyway it was again a scientific determination and wasn't anything service or political about it. It was the scientists that agreed upon it.

Q. Ray L. Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, the scientists seem most impressed with the fact that the Russian satellite weighs as much as it does, 184 pounds. Does your information indicate that we will launch one that heavy?

THE PRESIDENT. I will tell you this: I think this is not secret at all, Dr. Bronk visited me again yesterday, and he had had a talk with one of the very high officials in the governmental scientific work of Russia and he said merely that he didn't know that that figure was correct. So far as I know we are not thinking of putting one of that weight in the air.

Q. Hazel Markel, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, in light of the great faith which the American people have in your military knowledge and leadership, are you saying at this time that with the Russian satellite whirling about the world, you are not more concerned nor overly concerned about our Nation's security?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think I have time and again emphasized my concern about the Nation's security. I believe I just a few months back went on the television to make a special plea about this. As a matter of fact, I plead very strongly for $38 billion in new appropriations this year, and was cut quite severely in that new appropriations for next year.

Now, so far as the satellite itself is concerned, that does not raise my apprehensions, not one iota. I see nothing at this moment, at this stage of development, that is significant in that development as far as security is concerned, except, as I pointed out, it does definitely prove the possession by the Russian scientists of a very powerful thrust in their rocketry, and that is important. I can only say that I have had every group that I know anything about, to ask them is there anything more we can do in the development of our rocket program any better than it is being done? And, except for certain minor items or, you might say, almost involving administration, there has been little said.

Q. Tom Kelly, Washington Daily News: Mr. President, could you tell me what is our best knowledge of the weight of the Russian satellite; and if it does weigh anything close to 180 pounds, is this an indication that it is scientifically more valuable than ours will be when we get it up?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, certainly again I am quoting the scientists, there is no indication that this will be scientifically more valuable. If it is 180 pounds, I think it has astonished our scientists; I would say that.

Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Can you tell us more about the satellite you say we plan to launch in December? Will this be the initial sphere that would weigh only a few pounds, and would not contain any recording instruments?

THE PRESIDENT. That was the plan. The plan is, the first one that goes up, is just merely to let it orbit, checking your speeds, your directions, your equipment and everything else, and the next one--you see, the equipment that goes into these things is a very expensive--it is the most delicate machinery, and in that equipment itself is involved some of the latest scientific discoveries that we have.

Now, the satellite--the mere fact that this thing orbits involves no new discovery to science.- They knew it could be done--at least they say so, and they have for a long time--so that is no new discovery, so in itself it imposes no additional threat to the United States.

[Confers with Mr. Hagerty.]

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Hagerty reminds me there may be several of these test vehicles put out before the instrumentation itself goes up.

Q. Donald J. Gonzales, United Press: Sir, do you believe that the United States should now attempt to negotiate an earth satellite agreement outside of the overall first step program Which has been previously proposed ?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Dulles issued a statement on that last evening which seems to have been misinterpreted. He said that, with reference to this reported suggestion by Mr. Khrushchev, that there should be a U. S.-Soviet study of the control of objects entering outer space.

The Department of State first recalls that the London proposals of last August made by Canada, France, United Kingdom, and the United States called for just such a study. It is hoped that this offer will be accepted by the Soviet Union.

The State Department emphasizes that these London proposals call for a multilateral international study and not a bilateral study between the United States and U. S. S. R., and the United States would not be disposed to consider any alteration of this aspect of the proposals, although if its associates agree to such a study it might be initiated without waiting the conclusion of other substantive features of the proposal.

I just suggest you don't forget it said that if our associates agree, then we think that such a study, not a plan, but such a study could be initiated.

Merriman Smith, United Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and twenty-third news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:29 to 11:02 o'clock on Thursday morning, October 9, 1957. In attendance: 245.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233712

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