Presidential Decisions: NSC Documents from the Eisenhower Administration


The Dwight D. Eisenhower Administration created a very formal NSC structure for developing and implementing national security policy and laid a secret but solid base for all subsequent U.S. National Security Space Policy with NSC 5520, “Policy on U.S. Scientific Satellite Program,” in May 1955.  Eisenhower’s space policies helped establish fundamental principles in international law such as legitimizing satellite overflight for reconnaissance purposes and the concept of using space for “peaceful purposes.”  They provided a firm foundation for space science and exploration while eschewing a prestige-based race with the Soviets and even set in place many of the most important organizational structures for space within the U.S. government including the President’s Advisor on Science and Technology, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Aeronautics and Space Council (NASC), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).  Declassification and the passage of time have allowed a much fuller understanding of Eisenhower’s space policy—a historiography perspective far more nuanced and richer than often portrayed by initial accounts of this period.

NSC 5520 Statement of Policy on U.S. Scientific Satellite Program, 20 May 1955

Proposes a small scientific satellite that will demonstrate “Freedom of Space” and not pose a military threat.  Sections four and five of the draft statement acknowledge potential military benefits from the technological advances of the project.

  • Memorandum: “Implications of the Soviet Earth Satellite for U.S. Security”
  • Press Release
  • Cover Letter
  • “U.S. Scientific Satellite Program Table of Contents”
  • “Draft Statement of Policy on U.S. Scientific Satellite Program General Considerations”
  • “Financial Appendix”
  • “Annex A- Technical Annex”
  • “Annex B- Views of Nelson A. Rockefeller, Special Assistant to the President, on the subject, dated May 17, 1955”

NSC 5814 Preliminary U.S. Policy on Outer Space, 18 Aug 1958

Lists multiple uses of outer space, including the traversing of weapons.  Section nineteen states military uses.  Sections twenty through twenty-three outlines the reconnaissance satellite policy.  Addresses problematic legal issues in sections thirty-three to thirty-nine.  Outlines policy for international cooperation.

  • Cover Letter
  • “U.S. Policy on Outer Space Table of Contents”
  • “Draft Preliminary Statement of U.S. Policy on Outer Space”
  • “Annex A: The Soviet Space Program”
  • “Annex B: Tentative Schedule of U.S. Vehicle Launchings”

NSC 5918 U.S. Policy on Outer Space, 17 Dec 1959
* * Excerpts reflect format and wording from NSC 5918-1 (26 January 1960)

NSC 5918/1 U.S. Policy on Outer Space, 26 Jan 1960

Supersedes policy statements in NSC 5814.  Sections ten and eighteen through twenty describe military utilization of space.  Addresses international agreements on the use of space.  Promotes peaceful uses of space that encompasses military applications according to section twenty-five.  Supplements principles with policy implementation guidelines.

  • Cover Letter
  • “U.S. Policy on Outer Space Table of Contents”
  • Draft Statement of U.S. Policy on Outer Space
  • “Annex A: The Soviet Space Program”
  • “Annex B: Estimated Funding Requirements”

NSC 6021 Missiles and Military Space Programs (draft), 14 Dec 1960

Lists programs to receive priority attention including the space programs DISCOVERER, MERCURY and SATURN.  Satellite destruction missions must receive Presidential approval.

  • Cover Letter
  • “Draft Statement of Policy on Missiles and Military Space Programs”

NSC 6108 Certain Aspects of Missile and Space Programs, 18 Jan 1961

Document not publicly available.

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