McNamara Ordered a Comparative Review

One source calculated that by the end of FY 62 the Air Force had spent $240 million on the Dynasoar with only a full-scale mock-up to show for these expenditures (it should be remembered that the entire Mercury program would cost under $400 million) and that it would cost an estimated $1.3 billion to continue Dynasoar through its first piloted flight in 1966. Consequently, the X-20 program was coming under increased scrutiny in the fiscally minded OSD.75 Only a few days before McNamara and Webb finally reached their NASA-DOD Gemini agreement on 21 January 1963, and virtually simultaneously with his rejection of the USAF's MODS and Blue Gemini proposals, McNamara informed DDR&E Brown: "I should like to review in detail the DYNASOAR program" both in Washington, DC, and at the main contractor facilities. McNamara explained, "In particular, I am interested in considering the relationship of DYNASOAR to GEMINI and the extent to which the former will provide us with a valuable military capability not provided by the latter." One day later he added, "I am interested in the extent to which the Gemini program as presently conceived by NASA will meet our military requirements."76 McNamara openly pondered the X-20's fate before Congress in early 1963: "Do we meet a rather ill-defined military requirement better by proceeding down that track [spending $1 billion more on the X-20] or do we meet it better by modifying Gemini in some joint project with NASA?"77 In less than one year, McNamara would become convinced that NASA's Gemini did (when attached to a laboratory cylinder), in fact, better meet the OSD's military requirements for a human-spaceflight program, focused on the reconnaissance mission, than did Dynasoar.

Webb recorded a conversation he had with McNamara in February 1963 concerning Dynasoar in which McNamara stated that "he was prepared to look carefully at the values that might be retained from the Dynasoar program, although he had serious doubts that there were any values in it worth the eight or nine hundred million dollars that it was costing."78 Privately, Webb confided his personal views on Dynasoar "as an orbital vehicle it is going to be obsoleted [sic] by both Gemini and Apollo and that what we need now is careful, thoughtful work on hypersonic reentry."79 Also in February 1963, Zuckert reported to McNamara that a congressman had asked him while testifying to the House Appropriations Committee about McNamara's opinions concerning the Dynasoar program: "I told him that I realized it was your disposition to cancel or substantially reorient the Dynasoar program, but that this matter had not finally been settled."80 A final indication of McNamara's skepticism toward the X-20 program even before his formal review of it in March 1963 was his testimony to the House in February: "It appears to me that Gemini is advanced beyond the Dyna-Soar in technique and potential. There is no clear requirement, in my mind, at the present time for manned military operations in space. . . . But were we to require manned military operations in low earth orbit, it appears to me that the Gemini approach is a far more practical approach."81 Even before McNamara's review trip, the trade press was speculating, "For all intents and purposes, the Dyna-Soar (X-20) program is dead. There will now be a family discussion on the best way to bury the body."82

In March McNamara embarked on an intense review of the X-20 program that included briefings not only in Washington, DC, but tours of the facilities across the country of the major contractors for the glider itself and its launch vehicle, such as the Martin Corporation and Boeing, as well as similar facilities associated with the Gemini program. Brockway McMillan, assistant SAF for R&D, provided the best synopsis of McNamara's tour:

It was clear that the briefings on Dyna-Soar opened Mr. McNamara's mind in a way it had not been opened before on the point of Dyna-Soar as a space vehicle rather than as a research vehicle. . . . [However] Mr. McNamara several times said that he was concerned that in the Dyna-Soar project we were putting too great an emphasis on controlled reentry when we didn't even know what we were going to do in orbit. He felt the first emphasis should be on what missions can be performed in orbit and how to perform them, then worry about reentry at a later date. In other words, start looking at the problem from the end objective . . . and then worry about secondary problems like controlled reentry at a later time. It is not clear at this point that Mr. McNamara is willing to buy Dyna-Soar. In any event, he is not going to cancel it right away. He is clearly arguing with himself and several times raised the same questions. . . . It is clear that Mr. McNamara is concerned with the great cost of space flight and the great cost to the taxpayer of Gemini and Dyna-Soar. It is also clear that he feels we will have to have some kind of test bed in space—presumably manned—in order to test out concepts related to manned space flight. . . . He suggested that we take as much as six months to study, what in the long run, would be the optimum test bed for military space. He thought it might be space stations serviced by a ferry vehicle.83

McNamara had, in effect, given Dynasoar a six-month lease on life. When he returned from his review trips he tasked the SAF with a detailed examination of the Dynasoar and Gemini programs and their relation to the four most likely DOD space missions: inspection and identification of hostile satellites; protection of our own satellites from destruction; the capability of carrying out reconnaissance missions from space; and the introduction of offensive weapons into near-earth orbit. McNamara alluded to the Dynasoar in his memo to Zuckert: "It appears to me that too much emphasis and too much money has been placed on the development of certain techniques such as controlled reentry and not enough attention has been directed to the specific military missions to be performed. In particular, I am interested in reviewing the contribution which the X-20 and GEMINI programs can make to each of the missions referred to above."84 McNamara summarized his conclusions after his Dynasoar review to the House: "I seriously question whether our nation requires that both programs be completed. We have no clear military requirement for either."85

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