In January 1960, President Eisenhower directed NASA Administrator Glennan to accelerate the Super Booster Program that had recently been assigned to NASA. This order ensured the transfer of the von Braun group from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to NASA, and it gave Glennan the launch vehicle development and management capability that he needed.
The goal of the nation’s space program should be the scientific exploration of the moon and the planets but also to recognize that nontechnical factors are vital to public acceptance of a space program. Human exploration of the moon and planets would be potentially the greatest inspirational venture of the 20th century and one in which the world could share; inherent here are great and fundamental philosophical and spiritual values which find a response in man’s questing spirit to explore. Thus the space exploration program must be developed on the premise that man will be included. Failure to adopt this premise will inevitably prevent man’s inclusion, presumably because of the costs involved. From a scientific standpoint there seems little room for dissent that man’s participation in the exploration of the Moon and planets will be essential, if and when it becomes technologically feasible to include him.
President Kennedy proposed the manned lunar landing as the focus of the US space program but, at the time of his address, only one American, Alan B. Shepard, Jr. had been into space, on a suborbital lob shot lasting 15 minutes. No rocket launch vehicle was available for a lunar voyage and there was no agreed upon method for placing any kind of spacecraft safely on the lunar surface and getting it back to the earth. Nor was there agreement within NASA itself on how it should be done.
The success of Gus Grissom and John Young’s Gemini 3 flight paved the way for long duration space missions. The longest U.S. manned space flight to date was Gordon Cooper’s 34 hour Mercury flight. The Soviets, however, had four long duration flights to their credit, ranging from 70 to 119 hours. It was time for the US to attempt a long duration flight.