Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department


Committee Chair/Advisor

Mack, Pamela

Committee Member

Marks, Steven


The aim of this thesis is to analyze presidential decisions in formulating NASA programs in the first twenty years of the space administration. NASA programs varied greatly: from a “hands-off” approach taken by Eisenhower to a reactive role taken by the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies, as different presidents viewed Cold War competition in different lights. It also analyzes how competition and cooperation shaped NASA policy making. The thesis shows that NASA programs were extensions of the sitting president’s foreign policy goals. Despite presidential rhetoric of cooperation with the Soviet Union, the programs of NASA from 1958-1969 relied upon competition to gain funding and support for its programs. After man landed on the Moon, NASA Administration attempted to distance the space administration from presidential control by proposing NASA’s own future goals and programs. Ultimately, the attempt was for naught, as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger urged that NASA participate in a cooperative mission with the Soviet Union as a part of their détente foreign policy strategy. Even as the U.S. and the USSR worked together on a joint mission, competition continued to play a role in mission planning and coordination. Cooperation in space with the Soviet Union simply eclipsed competition. Old Cold War insecurities continued to play a role in the Soviet Union’s ability to cooperate with the United States. Many attempts at cooperation in space throughout the 1960’s usually ended in Soviet non-committal, or refusal to cooperate until disarmament took place. By analyzing presidential speeches, private presidential conversations, NASA memorandum, and interviews with NASA personnel, this thesis shows how a number of factors: détente, American agreement of nuclear disarmament, and the inability of the Soviet Union to land on the moon; combined to make a cooperative mission possible between the United States and the Soviet Union in the height of the Cold War. This research also shows that the collapse of détente also brought the end to U.S.-Soviet Union cooperation in space. The renewal of Cold War competition in the Carter and Reagan administrations made cooperation in space unlikely. Not until the Soviet Union collapsed did the United States and Russia make cooperation a fixture in space exploration.

Included in

History Commons



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