[FPSPACE] Sambaluk on David, 'Spies and Shuttles: NASA's Secret Relationships with the DOD and CIA'

jameseoberg at comcast.net jameseoberg at comcast.net
Mon Apr 6 20:15:00 EDT 2015

 Sambaluk on David, 'Spies and Shuttles: NASA's Secret Relationships with the DOD and CIA' 

James E. David.  Spies and Shuttles: NASA's Secret Relationships with 
the DOD and CIA.  Gainesville  University Press of Florida, 2015. 
370 pp.  $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8130-4999-1. 

Reviewed by Nicholas Sambaluk (Purdue University and the United 
States Military Academy) 
Published on H-War (April, 2015) 
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey 

James E. David's _Spies and Shuttles _traces a crucial yet typically 
underacknowledged aspect of the history of the National Aeronautics 
and Space Administration (NASA): its connection and interactions with 
the Department of Defense (DOD) and the other national security and 
intelligence entities during the Cold War. The irony and significance 
of David's findings hinge on the fact that NASA was established a 
year after the Soviet satellites with the explicit purpose of 
conducting civilian space activity in the open and keeping it 
unclassified, in order to draw a contrast against the Soviet program, 
which intimately connected its security efforts with the rest of its 

Even before NASA's establishment, its aviation-oriented predecessor 
had been complicit in the making of a cover story that aimed to 
protect the U-2 spy plane as a weather research vehicle. NASA 
officials' attempts to use intelligence requirements as a means of 
leveraging greater funds in the 1960s floundered because 
budget-shaping figures in Congress and the White House already had 
access to NASA's information as well as that of the intelligence 

As David demonstrates, NASA's autonomy even during its heyday in the 
1960s was overshadowed to a considerable extent by the strictures 
imposed by the intelligence community and by the need to fend off 
intermittent encroachments by DOD. As the country contemplated a 
lunar venture, Defense Secretary McNamara unsuccessfully proposed 
that NASA retain lunar efforts but cede crewed Earth-orbit missions 
to DOD. Where intelligence entities deemed that NASA's use of secret 
but existing cutting-edge cameras or sensors might disclose US 
intelligence-gathering capabilities, or reveal information about the 
United States, they convened to require the civilian space 
administration to use equipment of lesser capability. The 
relationship was not entirely one way, as later on NASA's Hubble 
telescope was in many ways possible because of shared technology, and 
intelligence organizations relented to allow specialized cameras to 
do crucial work supporting the selection of Apollo moon landing 

The quest to secure a substantial space program after Apollo was 
"lengthy and frustrating," and David relates this (p. 188). NASA's 
ambitious wish list winnowed to the development of a reusable shuttle 
expected to make frequent trips into space and provide a cheaper 
satellite-delivery capacity than existed with one-time use expendable 
launch vehicles. The shuttle would also offer the chance to repair or 
upgrade friendly satellites in orbit. The shuttle project survived 
the budget knives of the 1970s to a considerable degree because it 
promised economy of scale. NASA won allies in its fight for the 
shuttle by literally reshaping the vehicle to fit the anticipated 
needs of DOD and the intelligence community. 

The shuttle era, David indicates, marks a betrayal of NASA's "guiding 
principles" because of its agreement to undertake missions on behalf 
of DOD and "repeatedly carry classified payloads and conduct 
classified experiments, employ secure command and control procedures, 
and withhold extensive information from the public" (p. 217). A large 
proportion of slated missions were to be dedicated to putting 
classified DOD payloads into orbit. NACA and then NASA had 
begrudgingly acquiesced in the concealment of Central Intelligence 
Agency reconnaissance activities, but up until the 1980s NASA had not 
been conducting entire space missions at the behest of DOD and 
without informing the public of a mission's purpose. 

The shuttle's fate was sealed for many reasons. It underperformed 
relative to the lift capabilities originally promised, the turnaround 
time between missions was far greater than estimated, and security 
entities that had encouraged the building of a fifth orbiter never 
committed money to its construction and instead began backing away 
from the shuttle as it underperformed. This disengagement accelerated 
following the accidental destruction of _Challenger_ in February 1986 
and the extended delay before the next shuttle mission in 1988. 

David's work provides a valuable window into the workings of NASA and 
the impact that defense and intelligence efforts have on civilian 
science. One natural upshot of David's topic is that he encountered 
repeated instances of documents remaining classified. This was, as he 
acknowledges, a formidable obstacle from the 1970s through the end of 
the period he examines. Although David mentions some recent 
activities including the 2010 launch of the unmanned Air Force X-37 
that had been a cooperative effort with NASA, the focus is definitely 
on the Cold War era. Defining the project in these terms makes 
natural sense, particularly given the increasing problem of 
classification as the study approaches the modern day. It is an 
excellent book: descriptive, informative, and engaging. The topic, 
unfamiliar to many readers, still means that a reader who already 
holds some awareness of NASA history will feel more at home than a 
reader unfamiliar with NASA's general history. _Spies and Shuttles 
_is a must read for those interested in space history, Cold War 
security issues, and twentieth-century science and technology. 

Citation: Nicholas Sambaluk. Review of David, James E., _Spies and 
Shuttles: NASA's Secret Relationships with the DOD and CIA_. H-War, 
H-Net Reviews. April, 2015. 
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=43197 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 


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