Presidential Decisions: NSC Documents from the Kennedy Administration


John F. Kennedy’s Administration continued most of Eisenhower’s space policies but changed the NASC to make the Vice President, rather than the President, chair of the Council and usually used a less formal and more personalized decision-making structure overall.  Kennedy’s space policy is, of course, most famous for his prestige-based Moon landing challenge of May 1961, but he also developed important and foundational policies for communications satellites with the establishment of the publicly regulated Comsat Corporation, tightened secrecy about military space operations and around spy satellites in particular, floated the possibility of a cooperative Moon landing with the Soviets, and banned nuclear testing in space on the path that would lead to the Outer Space Treaty in 1967.

NSC 6180 Certain Aspects of Missile and Space Programs 18 Jan 1961

This policy statement sets priorities for the development of ICBMs, reconnaissance satellites, and space programs and sets restrictions on possible satellite destruction.


NSAM 50 Official Announcements of Launching into Space of Systems Involving Nuclear Power in Any Form, 12 May 1961

President Kennedy requests first notification of any launched systems that involve nuclear power.  Modified by the Carter Administration in PD/NSC 25.

  • Directive

NSAM 129 U.S.-U.S.S.R. Cooperation in the Exploration of Space, 23 Feb 1962

Directs Department of State to oversee a project with designated United States officials to prepare a recommendation for possible joint space efforts with the Soviet Union.

  • Directive
  • Revised Directive

NSAM 156 Negotiations on Disarmament and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, 26 May 1962

Directs Department of State to define a position that maintains peaceful uses of space in a manner that will not restrict United States’ classified programs such as satellite reconnaissance and not provide military assistance to the Soviet Union.  Orders report that becomes NSC Action 2454.

  • Directive

NSAM 172 Bilateral Talks Concerning US-USSR Cooperation in Outer Space Activities, 9 July 1962

Approves recommendations by the Department of State concerning United States and Soviet Union cooperation in outer space activities.

  • Directive

NSC Action 2454 Space Policy and Intelligence Requirements, 10 Jul 1962

Recommends a national satellite reconnaissance policy that promotes free and “peaceful uses” of space.  Regulates information released to the public with regard to United States’ reconnaissance activity.  Proposes further discussion of agreement to ban weapons of mass destruction carried by satellites.

  • Report by the Committee on Satellite Reconnaissance Policy

NSAM 183 Space Program for the United States, 27 Aug 1962

Orders defending United States’ space program to United Nations’ Outer Space Committee by defining the difference between aggressive and military uses of space and explains United States’ nuclear tests in space as a response to Soviet activity.

  • Directive

NSAM 191 Assignment of Highest National Priority to Project DEFENDER, 1 Oct 1962

  • Directive

NSAM 192 Separate Arms Control Measures for Outer Space, 2 Oct 1962

As a result of NSAM 156 and NSC Action 2454, the President requests notification before a ban on weapons of mass destruction in outer space is presented to the United Nations General Assembly.

  • Directive

NSAM 235 Large-Scale Scientific or Technological Experiments with Possible Adverse Environmental Effects, 17 Apr 1963

The Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology will review experiment proposals that may effect the environment and make the appropriate adjustments or cancellations to suit the national interest.  The Carter Administration rescinds this directive in PD/NSC 25.

  • Directive

NSAM 237 Project MERCURY Manned Space Flight (MA-9), 3 May 1963

Authorizes Secretary of Defense to use territorial waters of China, North Vietnam, or Cuba to retrieve materials or personnel from MERCURY 9 or future Gemini missions.

  • Directive

NSAM 258 Assignment of Highest National Priority to Program 437, 6 Aug 1963

  • Directive

NSAM 271 Cooperation with the USSR on Outer Space Matters, 12 Nov 1963

Designates National Aeronautics and Space Administration Administrator, in consultation with State and appropriate agencies, as the primary body to establish an outer space program that collaborates with the Soviet Union.  President Johnson reviews the report in NSAM 285.

  • Directive

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