In 1957, NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan and rocket expert Wernher von Braun are summoned to the White House by President Eisenhower and questioned as to the feasibility of developing anti-ballistic missile technology to counter Soviet ICBM's, now that the launch of Sputnik has confirmed that the USSR has the technology to build intercontinental missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons to the United States. Both men express skepticism, Glennan observing that the only obvious method would be via an interceptor rocket, a technique he compares to 'hitting a bullet with a bullet.'
|Arthur C. Clarke|
Also present, however, is physicist Edward Teller, popularly (and not quite accurately) described as 'the father of the H-bomb.' Teller insists that ABM technology can and must be developed. 'If it is not,' he warns, 'the Soviets will soon be able to smash America to her knees with a barrage of intercontinental missiles in a Pearl Harbor-style attack, and then move in and conquer what remains of this nation.? In a private conversation later with his former Manhattan Project colleague Isidor I. Rabi, Teller goes further, claiming that if ABM technology is not developed immediately, he expects to be a prisoner in a Soviet concentration camp in a Communist America within five years. Rabi, who has become accustomed to such hyperbole from the militantly anti-Communist Teller, says nothing, but will recount the incident decades later in a television interview.
Eisenhower finds Teller's argument - and in particular his evocation of Pearl Harbor - persuasive, and directs that NASA devote itself to ABM development. Glennan's objection that this is an inappropriate mission for a supposedly civilian agency is brushed aside.
After the meeting, however, Eisenhower decides he cannot trust the obviously reluctant Dr. Glennan to devote himself wholeheartedly to the ABM project. In a telephone call to Secretary of Defense Neil H. McElroy, he directs that the Defense Department launch its own ABM program, which is to be kept as separate as possible from that of NASA, ostensibly to avoid 'bureaucratic conflicts' but actually to keep Glennan's attitude from spreading to the military project.