The jetsam strewn over the face of Europe in the process of dismembering the Third Reich included vast quantities of technical data and a respectable assemblage of practicing rocket scientists. Within reasonable limits, the western allies cooperated with one another in the collection and disposition of such esoteric war booty; the scavengers of the Soviet Union competed hotly with the West for equipment, records, and personnel of the defunct German missile programs. In the scramble, the United States fared rather well, emerging with missiles and rocket engines sufficient for several dozen test shots and with personnel and records sufficient to keep intelligence specialists and scientists busy for months--or years.

All three services promptly set to work on missiles and rockets based on the German originals as well as a few of the more advanced products of domestic wartime research and development. Something more than academic interest was displayed in the question of whether ballistic missiles constituted an extension of air warfare, a variant of long range artillery, or a possible extension of the technique of a naval strike force.

The concept of long range ballistic missiles was sufficiently foreign to the United States experience to require a considerable revision of established theories there. The exploitation of loosely defined space vehicle research conducted by the Germans required still more vision than was common to the postwar years. The first prominent American with courage to speak forthrightly about the future of warfare in such a context was General of the Armies H. H. Arnold. In his "War Report," a summary of achievements and an anticipation of needs, he stated the problem baldly:

. . . we should be ready with a weapon of the general type of the German V-2 rocket, having greatly improved range and precision, and launched from great distances.

* * *

If defenses which can cope even with such a 3, 000-mile-per-hour projectile are developed, we must be ready to launch such projectiles nearer the target, to give them a shorter time of flight and make them harder to detect and destroy. We must be ready to launch them from unexpected directions. This can be done from true space ships, capable of operating outside the earth's atmosphere. The design of such a ship is all but practicable today; research will unquestionably bring it into being within the foreseeable future.

The first identifiable interest in a specific American space program was expressed by a group of Bureau of Aeronautics planners under Commander Harvey Hall. By the fall of 1945 they had sifted through enough of the Peenemunde refuse to acquire enthusiasm for the vague satellite proposals that had emerged from the final years of the German programs. In the course of a 3 October 1945 meeting, Hall and his fellows in the Electronics Division of the bureau suggested the need for a satellite test program to determine the basic feasibility of the concept. With some support from a Navy that was willing to investigate virtually any foreseeable future mission (Bureau of Aeronautics created a Committee for Evaluation of the Feasibility of Space Rocketry), the Hall group opened a series of discussions with the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratories at California Institute of Technology, with Glenn L. Martin Company, with North American Aviation, Incorporated, and with the Douglas Aircraft Company. By early 1946, all four establishments had made preliminary analyses of requirements for the design of spacecraft and had concluded that a satellite could be placed in orbit in the relatively near future if the attempt were adequately supported.

Initial estimates visualized the expenditure of $5 million to $8 million for the development and construction of a 2,000-pound satellite to be boosted into orbit by a rocket vehicle possessing between 100, 000 and 200, 000 pounds of thrust. Upon consideration, the Navy decided it was unable to finance such a program unassisted, so on 7 March 1946 Hall and his associates met with Army Air Forces members of the Aeronautical Board (jointly staffed by Bureau of Aeronautics and Army Air Forces representatives) to consider his suggestion that the two services undertake a cooperative space program. (Captain W. P. Cogswell and Hall represented the Navy; Major General H. J. Knerr, Major General H. W. McClellan, and Brigadier General W. L. Richardson were the principal Army attendees.) The results of the meeting were summarized in a memorandum which said, in part,

...the general advantages to be derived from pursuing the satellite development appear to be sufficient to justify a major program, in spite of the fact that the obvious military, or purely naval applications, in themselves may not appear at this time to warrant the expenditure. On this basis, the Army representatives agree to investigate the extent of Army interest by discussions with [Major] General [C. E.] LeMay [director of research and development]….

By 9 April, the satellite proposal had found a place on the agenda of the Aeronautical Board's Research and Development Committee. A formal discussion was scheduled for the 14 May meeting of the committee, at which time an official response to the Navy proposal was to be presented.

In the interval between the 9 April discussion and the 14 May meeting, the matter came to the attention of the Office of the Commanding General, Army Air Forces. That office decided that the position of the Air Forces in any interservice conference would be compromised unless its representatives could produce a paper demonstrating equal competence with the Navy--and equal interest--in space research. Air staff authorities also felt that the Army Air Forces should have primary responsibility for any military satellite vehicles, considering such activity to be essentially an extension of strategic air power. Thus was shaped perhaps the first expression of a viewpoint that became a significant issue in interservice rivalries for the next 15 years.

General LeMay, charged with disposing of the problem, asked the Douglas Aircraft Company to have its Project RAND group undertake a satellite feasibility study for the Air Forces on a three-week deadline "to meet a pressing responsibility." Douglas sidetracked other current work and ordered 50 of the company's best scientists and engineers to work on the LeMay assignment. The study was ready, in approved draft, on 2 May; after minor revision it was actually forwarded to the Pentagon on 12 May 1946, barely in time for use during the 14 May meeting.

The RAND report was, in the simplest terms, a rapid but thorough engineering analysis of satellite feasibility. Its conclusions were entirely straightforward: "modern technology has advanced to a point where it now appears feasible to undertake the design of a satellite vehicle." An abstract of the original 321 page study appeared the following month with an equally forthright statement of conclusions:

The Douglas Aircraft Company, Inc., . . .has undertaken a constructive, realistic, engineering appraisal of the possibilities of building a space ship which will circle the earth as a satellite. Report SM-11827, here abstracted, shows it possible today to build such a vehicle which will take off from the surface of the earth and return thereto without destroying itself- -this on the basis of our present state of technological advancement and without dependence on future developments such as atomic energy. The particular space ship studied is one designed to obtain scientific data in the upper reaches of the atmosphere and beyond. Once this objective is reached, the feasibility of designing a missile [satellite?] for direct military use will have been demonstrated and the design can be undertaken with confidence.

The arguments, and indeed the basic calculations, were remarkably similar to those exposed to the American public in the period immediately following the 4 October 1957 circuit of Sputnik I. Although considering the feasibility and need for a military vehicle, the initial reports dealt mostly with the problem of orbiting a 500-pound instrumented packet designed to collect information on "cosmic rays, gravitation, geophysics, terrestrial magnetism, astronomy, meteorology, and properties of the upper atmosphere."

The vehicle was conceived of as a multi-stage rocket, using either alcohol-oxygen (the propellants of the German V - 2) or hydrogen-oxygen. A four-stage alcohol-oxygen rocket and a two-or three-stage hydrogen-oxygen rocket received detailed consideration. The gross weight of the alcohol-oxygen version was computed at 302,055 pounds.

The operating mode proposed in RAND's study was remarkably like that actually adopted when the United States began launching satellites 12 years later- - even to the suggestion that the vehicle be permitted to stabilize in an extended elliptic arc immediately before firing of the final stage. Calculations (or estimates) of meteorite frequency and re-entry heating were carefully done, prompting the blunt statement that the maximum acceleration and internal temperatures can be kept within limits safely withstood by a human being. Since the vehicle is not likely to be damaged by meteorites and can be safely brought back to earth, there is good reason to hope that future satellite vehicles will be built to carry human beings.

Although earlier considerations of a "satellite" had been either admittedly theoretical (that is, generally feasible only in the minds of fanatical space flight devotees) or entirely implausible, the RAND study of mid-1946 was nearly as much concerned with engineering as with basic theory and was based on technology then attainable. However, the importance of the report lay not in the precision of its calculations (both Tsiolkovski and Oberth had provided specifics), but in the methods. The figures used in the report, moreover, represented "a reasonable compromise between the extremes which are possible with the data now in hand." One point seemed vitally important to the authors:" ---a satellite vehicle can be made - - in the present state of the art." In an editorial aside, as if anticipating the emergence of an anti-missile, anti-satellite faction, they emphasized that "even our more conservative engineers agree that it is definitely possible to undertake design and construction now of a vehicle which would become a satellite of the earth."

One of the most important viewpoints of the RAND study was contained in a cogent preface on the significance of a satellite:

Attempting in early 1946 to estimate the values to be derived from a development program aimed at the establishment of a satellite circling the earth above the atmosphere is as difficult as it would have been, some years before the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, to visualize the current uses of aviation in war and in peace. Some of the fields in which important results are to be expected are obvious; others, which may include some of the most important, will certainly be overlooked because of the novelty of the undertaking.

The RAND study made one other point that was largely disregarded in subsequent years:". . . the development of a satellite will be directly applicable to the development of an intercontinental rocket missile."

More particularly and more immediately, RAND anticipated military requirements for both a satellite to aid in missile guidance and another with a reconnaissance and weather surveillance assignment. Scientific information of immense significance could certainly be obtained, with particular benefits probable in the fields of gravitation research, astronomy, weather forecasting, ionospheric studies, and bio-astronautics. Communications satellites were specifically anticipated; the 25,000-mile orbit

"stationary satellite" received detailed consideration. Finally, in what probably lent the final touch of fantasy for conservative readers, the RAND studies briefly touched on the potential of the satellite as a forerunner of true space flight:

The most fascinating aspect of successfully launching a satellite would be the pulse quickening stimulation it would give to considerations of interplanetary travel. Whose imagination is not fired by the possibility of voyaging out beyond the limits of our earth, traveling to the Moon, to Venus and Mars? But, a man-made satellite, circling our globe beyond the limits of the atmosphere is a first step. The other necessary steps would surely follow in rapid succession. Who would be so bold as to say that this might not come within our time?

Descending to the more prosaic, the engineering study considered in detail the several ingredients of a successful satellite program: dynamics of orbital motion, power plants and fuels, structural weights, design proportions, size and trajectory factors, guidance, orbital problems, descent and landing, general vehicle design, the requirements for a man-carrying vehicle, an estimation of time and cost, and an evaluation of research and development requirements.

Although the entire concept was startling in its implications, in the opinion of those experts who looked at it 15 years later one of its most important contributions--largely unrecognized at the time--was its penetrating analysis of the advantages of and obstacles to the use of hydrogen as a propellant. Perhaps less significant but certainly of considerable interest in that it represented the basic technical conservatism of the approach, was the general estimate of research and development cost--$150 millions--and time requirements: "approximately five years time." Except that the eventual payload was appreciably less, both the cost and the time were remarkably close to the actuals of the Vanguard program- -which finally succeeded in March 1958. In May of 1946, therefore, the best engineering talent the Army Air Forces could employ had concluded that:

Technology and experience have now reached the point where it is possible to design and construct craft which can. . . become satellites of the earth. This statement is documented in this report, which is a design study for a satellite vehicle judiciously based on German experience with V-2, and which relies for its success only on sound engineering development which can logically be expected as a consequence of intensive application to this effort. The craft which would result from such an undertaking would almost certainly do the job of becoming a satellite, but it would clearly be bulky, expensive, and inefficient in terms of the spaceship we shall be able to design after twenty years of intensive work in this field. In making the decision as to whether or not to undertake construction of such a craft now, it is not inappropriate to view our present situation as similar to that in airplanes prior to the flight of the Wright Brothers. We can see no more clearly all the utility and implications of spaceships than the Wright brothers could see fleets of B-29's bombing Japan and air transports circling the globe.

Unhappily for the prospect of immediate approval and a venturesome approach to the space flight problem, the obvious expensive nature of the program, its tenuous justification and the lack of either obvious or immediate benefits, and the complete absence of any motivation that seemed salable to the general public combined to keep enthusiasm well within bounds.

Although the satellite proposals were discussed during the 14 May 1946 Research and Development Committee meeting, nothing approaching a decision resulted. The committee merely forwarded its summary to the Aeronautical Board with a notation that there was no agreement between the air and navy factions, and the Aeronautical Board characteristically decided to await receipt of a high level definition of responsibilities for the military space mission. Impatient of the delay, the Navy in January 1947 appealed to the Joint Research and Development Board to create a special ad hoc committee on astronautics to determine which of the services should have cognizance over space programs. Each branch

obviously recognized the vital character of such a decision (which was not finally reached until March 1961). No ruling at all was forthcoming immediately, with the result that the Aeronautical Board and its Research and Development Committee undertook to defend their own primacy. Inasmuch as the Aeronautical Board was equally composed of Army Air Force and Navy Bureau of Aeronautics delegates, that was no more than a temporizing solution. The absence of any firm policy on which to base the assignment of actual projects or programs continued to dilute whatever useful results happened to emerge from studies.

In June 1947, the Aeronautical Board asked that its innate authority to coordinate special studies and research projects be confirmed; but before agreement and a binding decision could be obtained, new developments had overtaken the old. The Joint Research and Development Board on 19 December 1947 directed that its own Committee on Guided Missiles "assume responsibility for the coordination of the Earth Satellite Vehicle."

By that time the muddled organizational squabble had grown more acrimonious through the separation of the air service from the Army and its appearance as an independent Air Force. In the process of creating the new Department of Defense, the Joint Research and Development Board was transformed from a coordinating body into a policy body with authority derived from its status as part of the Defense Department. Moreover, continuing indecision and the implications of Aeronautical Board recommendations had combined to make space policy a matter of Defense Department concern rather than a joint service problem.

There was one further obstacle, defined later by a keen student of the period, which arose from the fact that the board and its various committees were strongly influenced by civilian members who frequently exhibited "the conservative judgment that has often characterized leading academic scientists, and for a long time they dismissed space plans as `military dreams'."

During the 1940-1948 period the most highly respected spokesman of American science, the individual who had ultimate wartime authority over virtually all applied science and research used by the armed forces, Vannevar Bush, exposed the American people to his opinions on the future of the military arts. His influence could scarcely be questioned; his patronizing distrust of General Arnold (and military scientists in general) was all too obvious.

We are. . .decidedly interested [he wrote] in the question of whether there are soon to be high-trajectory guided missiles. spanning thousands of miles and precisely hitting chosen targets. The question is particularly pertinent because some eminent military men, exhilarated perhaps by a short immersion in matters scientific, have publicly asserted that there are. We have been regaled by scary articles, complete with maps and diagrams, implying that soon we are thus all to be exterminated, or that we are to employ these devilish devices to exterminate someone else. We even have the exposition of missiles fired so fast that they leave the earth and proceed about it indefinitely as satellites, like the moon, for some vaguely specified military purposes. All sorts of prognostications of doom have been pulled from the Pandora's box of science, often by those whose scientific qualifications are a bit limited, and often in such vague and general terms that they are hard to fasten upon. These have had influence on the resolution and steadiness with which we face a hard future, and they have done much harm, vague as they are. But this one is explicit, and we can treat it.

And treat it he did. In essence, Bush ridiculed notions of ballistic missiles on grounds of "astronomical" costs and impossible inaccuracies complicated by the obvious impossibility of creating an effective warhead. The man who thus cavalierly dismissed the ballistic missile as entirely impractical and satellites as the vaporings of military incompetents was, during the critical years 1946 through 1948, chairman of the Research and Development Board.

As was probably inevitable in the climate of the times, the Research and Development Board ultimately rejected the satellite proposal as not supported by a military requirement. That did not end the matter, however. The Navy in particular was extremely interested in using a cluster of available rockets to orbit "a small payload." The project was quite feasible in terms of available technology--or at least it seemed so to those who looked back on it several years later. But the key decision was that of the Research and Development Board, and its Guided Missile Committee allowed the proposal to die of funds starvation. The reason: no evidence of military utility. A great many promising missile programs also disappeared from the funding schedules in 1947 and 1948, most because they were too theoretical or too far removed from operational utility to satisfy existing requirements during a period of financial retrenchment. There was no ready means of appeal; the position of the Research and Development Board, interposed between the researchers and the upper levels of the defense department, gave that organization something like a final word.

Irretrievably tied to the missile program, and being controlled essentially by the missile program managers, space and satellite proposals could not avoid being affected by far-reaching policy decisions aimed principally at missiles. The progression was principally in financial austerity. In December 1946, the guided missile budget for fiscal year 1947 (then halfway to completion) was reduced from $29 million to about $13 million. In consequence, 11 of the 28 surviving missile projects had to be eliminated. The 17 remaining projects decreased to a total of 12 in May 1947--and shortly thereafter to 8 programs. The residuals did not include the Consolidated-Vultee long-range ballistic missile project. Apart from the ill-defined requirement for a rocket-boosted, ramjet-cruise missile (eventually the Navaho), no "big rocket" programs remained in the "funded" category. Nor was this situation transitory; not until 1950 did funds appear to support the resumption of "big rocket" work, and even then the program was restricted to research and general design activity.

Thus proposals for an active development program leading toward a specific satellite launching failed of approval. Indeed, it may safely be said that such proposals did not even receive serious consideration. The advisory committees which controlled the decision process were themselves dominated by individuals who considered ballistic missiles and satellites to be inconceivable for practical use in the decades immediately ahead. The uncertain state of technology obviously was another factor, although engineers and scientists who studied the scientists who studied the space program proposals had no doubt of the nation's ability to overcome whatever technological obstacles there were. The urgent need of the late 1940s to modernize the military and naval machine that had won the war did much to direct attention toward new but relatively conventional weapons rather than missiles and related devices that seemed far in the future.

Moreover, in the financial climate of the late 1940s, before the Soviets had demonstrated their ability to construct a nuclear bomb and before the onset of the Korean affair, an economy move was inevitable. The Department of Defense as a whole suffered cutbacks in operational forces as well as research and development--although in proportion the impact was undoubtedly greater for the latter. In 1947 the Air Force lost its only ballistic missile program (the Navy retained the Viking project and the Army continued working toward the Redstone), and Air Force rocket research barely limped along on a slender thread of financial support derived from booster rocket requirements. Nevertheless, the flavor of subtle irresponsibility that missile and space programs acquired through the actions of the major advisory committees probably was at least as important as any other single factor in halting moves to begin development.

In the meantime, the Army Air Forces, with the approval of the Aeronautical Board (and later of the Joint Research and Development Board) continued to support study efforts in the regime of space operations. On 1 February 1947, RAND forwarded a multi-volume expansion of earlier satellite work which contained detailed analyses of satellites in general and specialized aspects of the space vehicle in particular. For six months, the new submissions had no discernible effects. Then on 18 September, the United States Air Force officially came into being. Precisely one week later, on 25 September, Air Force headquarters asked the Materiel Command's Engineering Division to study and evaluate the RAND satellite reports of the previous February from the standpoints of technical and operational feasibility.

The Engineering Division's response left Wright Field on 8 December 1947. In the interval between the submission of the RAND studies (February 1947) and the completion of the Engineering Division's analysis of those studies, a number of critical events had affected the total situation. Probably most important was the continuing decline in the level of missile program funding and, for that matter, in the total of research and development funds. The fact that a considerable quantity of Air Staff time was consumed in the process of obtaining approval for an independent Air Force (summer 1947) undoubtedly influenced the handling of sensitive topics like the satellite. Additionally, the control of Congress had passed from the administration to the opposition party, which set about eliminating residual wartime controls, reducing taxes in general, and markedly limiting federal expenditures. The general expectation of spokesmen on the new defense establishment was that "unification" would promptly eliminate redundant projects and programs in the three services with a consequent reduction in the cost of national defense. The new Defense Department was in itself expected to institute immediate reforms which would promptly lower departmental budget requirements. In total, therefore, the prospects for approval of radically new and probably expensive development programs of unproven military worth were no brighter in December than in February, even though inhibitions of operating under restrictive policies based on extreme scientific conservatism tended to disappear with the establishment of an autonomous Air Force.

It was in this environment that the Engineering Division's response to General Spaatz was composed. As a beginning, the division certified the technical feasibility of both developing and operating "a satisfactory satellite vehicle." However, the chief of the division wrote, "Insufficient data is available at this time to determine whether the complexity and cost will in time permit practical utilization of such a vehicle." Conceding that "an appropriate development program" could solve apparent technical difficulties, the Engineering Division nevertheless had serious misgivings about the feasibility of funding the necessary program at an appropriate level. The temporizing solution, then, was to recommend establishment of a satellite project, but to limit its scope to the preparation of specifications and the collection of information on requirements ("time, manpower and money"), function ("what useful purposes could be served by the construction and operation of a satellite vehicle"), and scheduling ("the optimum time to begin actual construction of a complete satellite as opposed to component development"). The key phrases came late in the comment letter: "It is recognized that there is an urgent need of developing guided missiles and allied equipment already called for by military characteristics and that scarce funds and limited component scientific talent must first be used in this field."

The Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Materiel, Lieutenant General H.A. Craig, decided that, although the financial obstacles to a full satellite development program were formidable, the time had come to take a stand on the general issue. His conclusion was that "the passage of time, with accompanying technical progress, will gradually bring the cost of such a vehicle within feasible bounds." He therefore advised the vice chief of staff, General H.S. Vandenberg, that the proper course was to incorporate the crux of the Engineering Division's recommendations in a formal Air Force policy statement. General Craig said, in so many words, that the satellite could and probably should be built, but that at the moment the Air Force was in no position to finance the undertaking.

If the February 1946 decision to have RAND analyze satellite feasibility was the first turning point in the evolution of an Air Force space program, General Vandenberg's January 1948 policy statement was the second. Signed on 15 January and communicated to the Engineering Division one day later, it unilaterally but nonetheless effectively constituted the first clear statement of space program interest by any service:

The USAF, as the service dealing primarily with air weapons--especially strategic--has logical responsibility for the satellite. Research and Development will be pursued as rapidly as progress in the guided missiles art justifies, and requirements dictate. To this end, the program will be continually studied with a view to keeping an optimum design abreast of the art, to determine the military worth of the vehicle- - considering its utility and probable cost- -to insure development in critical components, if indicated, and to recommend initiation of the development phases of the project at the proper time.

In forwarding that policy to the Engineering Division, the Air Force Director of Research and Development authorized the Wright Field agency to put it into effect "by action under the RAND contract." General Crawford, at Wright Field, thereupon instructed RAND to establish a satellite project with the objective of furthering the development of vital components and techniques needed "for the eventual construction and operation of a satellite vehicle." The remainder of his instructions paralleled the Engineering Division's recommendation of 8 December. RAND received specific authorization to let research and study sub-contracts, though "subject to the approval of the Air Materiel Command and availability of funds."

One of the most discouraging elements of the correspondence was common both to the original Engineering Division comments of December and to the Crawford letter to RAND, in February. It was contained in the injunction that RAND should advise the Air Force "on request or at appropriate intervals" on the question of "what purpose could be served by the construction and operation of a satellite vehicle." It was obvious, quite apart from the matter of funding competition between long range programs and the immediate needs of the Air Force, that higher echelons had no firm conviction of the military worth of satellite proposals. Incredulity that the space age- -or even the missile age- -was actually dawning typified reaction to both ballistic missile and satellite proposals. The immediate effect of the Vandenberg dictum, then, was little more than to encourage the continuation of RAND-conducted studies of a future satellite and its prospective uses. For the next three years, the critical problem of the Air Staff- -and of the materiel people at lower echelons- -was to shelter a minimum research and development effort from the consequences of funding limitations that threatened not merely the "fantastic" elements of the program, but actually such "bread and butter" projects as were involved in the first generation of turbo-jet-propelled strategic bombers and interceptors.