Gardner and Ramo had known each other since 1937. They had happened to live in the same apartment house in Schenectady while Gardner was doing a brief stint as a student engineer for General Electric. He too had soon decided that GE was not for him and returned to the University of Southern California to teach freshman mathematics and earn his M.B.A. Gardner also had some knowledge of Ramo’s and Wooldridge’s accomplishments at Culver City because his own firm, Hycon Manufacturing, was located in nearby Pasadena. But he apparently did not fully appreciate how far they had gone until he visited Hughes in the course of the Department of Defense guided missile survey he was heading. He realized then that he had found two men who had fostered the beginnings of an aerospace industry. They could marshal and wield the scientific and engineering expertise necessary to overcome the technological obstacles inherent in the building of an ICBM. He complimented them on the “forceful and focused” manner in which they developed a weapon system and picked Ramo’s brain for ideas on how to proceed with an ICBM project. Ramo urged him to start by setting up a blue-ribbon committee to study the problem and issue a judgment on the ICBM’s feasibility. He should select its chairman and members with care, Ramo advised, because if he managed to form a committee with sufficient academic and scientific gravitas, Secretary Wilson and others Gardner wanted to impress at the Pentagon would be unable to ignore its findings. Gardner had divided the Defense Department’s overall guided missile review committee into panels, each to study and report on a category of missiles. He had reserved leadership of the panel on intercontinental strategic missiles to himself. Its recommendation, naturally, was to convene precisely the sort of all-star committee Ramo advocated.

And so Gardner and Vince Ford set off for Princeton once more in Gardner’s green Cadillac convertible. (Gardner and the Hungarian genius he was going to see shared a taste for expensive automobiles.) The conversation in von Neumann’s office at the Institute for Advanced Study was briefer this time. “I vill do it,” Ford recalled von Neumann immediately replying to Gardner’s request that he chair the committee, turning the w into a v with his Hungarian accent. Gardner was elated on the way back to Washington, driving at his usual madcap speed, whipping around every car ahead of his on a rain-slick road while he called out to Ford the names of prospective members of the committee. Ford had observed that, figuratively speaking, Trevor Gardner seemed to know only two speeds in an automobile—zero when the car was stopped and seventy miles per hour when it was on the move. They took a break in Maryland for a couple of drinks and a steak dinner.

Ramo and Wooldridge had meanwhile been preparing all that summer to leave Hughes Aircraft after seven years and found their own firm. They were too ambitious to work forever for a company owned by another man and, if they stayed, with the loony Hughes in possession they believed they would never be able to break the aircraft company away from Hughes Tool and acquire the authority they needed to further expand and diversify. To get to see Hughes was extremely difficult and time-consuming. When Ramo did succeed, he could never get a coherent response out of the man, who at one point shifted his residence from a set of frostily air-conditioned hotel rooms in Las Vegas to an old and bare mansion in Santa Monica with a folding camp cot to sleep on, two milk cartons on the floor beside it. Howard Hughes was so bizarre he would not allow himself to be fingerprinted for a security clearance, which meant that he could not participate in decisions involving classified military projects. He could not even enter the research laboratory of his own company. In September 1953 they submitted their resignations, confident that with the reputations they had gained from their accomplishments at Hughes Aircraft, they would have no trouble attracting investment capital and talent to their own enterprise. They envisioned a computer and electronics firm that would focus on the civilian rather than the military market, a version of what the civilian side of IBM (International Business Machines Corporation) became.

Now it was Ramo who was to be surprised. On Monday, September 14, 1953, he and Wooldridge, their resignations submitted to Hughes the previous Friday, flew from Los Angeles to New York and conferred with attorneys from a Wall Street law firm who were handling the formalities of establishing a company to be called the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation. That Monday evening they took another plane for Cleveland. On Tuesday, they met there with executives of Thompson Products Company, a manufacturer of automotive and aircraft engine parts with an interest in electronics. In return for a share of forthcoming Ramo-Wooldridge stock, Thompson Products agreed to become their financial backer. At noon on Wednesday, they signed the agreement with Thompson Products; in the afternoon they learned from their New York attorneys that they were the owners of a corporation newly registered in Delaware, a practice common for legal and tax reasons; and the same evening they boarded a night flight home to California. (In 1958, Ramo-Wooldridge merged with Thompson Products to become Thompson Ramo Wooldridge, Inc. The corporation’s name was then abbreviated in 1965 to TRW, Inc. Because much of this narrative occurred before 1958, the firm will usually be referred to as Ramo-Wooldridge.)

The scene on Thursday in the one-room office on West 92nd Street in Los Angeles, which they had rented as a temporary headquarters (the place was later to be the site of a barbershop), was a kind of bare-bones bedlam. A secretary sat on a folding chair and typed on a rented typewriter at a folding card table. There were two telephones, ringing constantly with calls from scientists and engineers who wanted to join the enterprise. Suddenly, an Air Force major walked in and said he had a message from Secretary Talbott, who had been unable to get through on either of their phones. They were to report to his office at the Pentagon at noon on Friday to meet with him and his special assistant for research and development, Trevor Gardner. That Thursday evening Ramo and Wooldridge were flying through the night back east again toward the dawn.

Gardner, along with Secretary Talbott, was waiting for them when they arrived. He explained that, with Talbott’s assent, he had decided to form the study committee on intercontinental strategic missiles that Ramo had suggested. He wanted Ramo and Wooldridge, and however much of their new organization as they needed, to act as the committee’s staff. They were to locate specialists in the various fields where the technological obstacles lay, arrange for them to brief the committee members, keep the record of the meetings, and write the final report with the committee’s findings and recommendations. They were also to serve as full members of the committee themselves. Although, at least in the short run, this hardly accorded with their plan to focus their firm on computers and other electronic gear for the civilian market, they felt they had no choice but to accept.

Bennie Schriever offered to provide the funds for Ramo’s and Wooldridge’s work and the other expenses of the committee out of the $10 million budget he controlled through his Development Planning Office. He had wide discretion in the use of the monies. Gardner accepted and Bennie immediately issued a letter contract to the fledgling firm of Ramo-Wooldridge. He also volunteered to serve as the committee’s military representative and Gardner accepted that as well. Ramo and Wooldridge left for Los Angeles at the end of the afternoon pleased that, while the contract was modest, their enterprise was already in the black. They had no sense, as Ramo was later to write, that Trevor Gardner had a great deal more in mind for them, that the committee assignment was just “the tip of the iceberg.”

The committee was as blue-ribbon as Ramo had advised Gardner to make it. In addition to von Neumann, its chairman, the eleven members included some of the most respected figures in American science. There was Clark Millikan, son of Robert Millikan and head of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at Caltech; Charles Lauritsen, Gardner’s patron; Jerome Wiesner, the electrical engineer who had specialized in the advancement of airborne radar at the Rad Lab during the Second World War, and who would one day serve as science adviser to John Kennedy and later as president of the MIT Corporation; and George Kistiakowsky, who was back on the Harvard chemistry faculty. Gardner chose them after consulting with von Neumann and Ramo. When Vince Ford put the call through to Kistiakowsky, the assembler of the explosive wrapper for the Nagasaki bomb was out blowing up the stumps of some trees he had cleared away near his house in a suburb of Boston. No one refused. The mention of von Neumann’s name was sufficient to overcome any conflict with teaching or research schedules. Enough years had also elapsed since the end of the Second World War to dissipate the guilt many scientists had felt over their community’s role in opening the nuclear Pandora’s box. In the interval, a renewed spirit of patriotic urgency had emerged. Stalin’s brutality, his disastrous foreign policy, and the Korean War had returned the United States to the climate of fear and danger it had known when Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had threatened.

Ramo pointed out that they needed a code word for the committee, as he and Gardner and the others would inevitably be discussing its progress on the phone. He proposed to honor its instigator with Tea Garden for Trevor Gardner, but Gardner thought that would make it too easy to guess at his identity and thus the subject of the inquiry, because his interests were known. Ramo came back with Tea Pot. The group was later given the dignified title of Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee, but Tea Pot Committee was how it was to go down in history.

Ramo and Wooldridge proved as adept as Gardner had suspected they would be at rounding up specialists to brief the committee members on the technological problems that would have to be overcome. Von Neumann thrust himself into the task as an enthusiastic chairman, probing and insightful in his questions at the meetings. The rest of this distinguished group were hardly bashful at asking their own. The Air Force currently had three long-range strategic missile projects. Two were cruise missiles designed to fly within the earth’s atmosphere. One, the Snark, was to head for its target at an altitude of ten miles on a turbojet engine. The other, Navaho, was to have a large rocket booster to lift it fifteen miles in altitude, where its twin ramjet engines were to take over. Snark went into production and was deployed in 1959 in small numbers before being withdrawn from service. Navaho was subsequently canceled. The Tea Pot Committee report examined both of these programs, but it focused on the third, the Air Force’s only intercontinental ballistic missile project—Atlas.

Atlas was another example of futuristic weaponry that owed its origin to the farsightedness of Hap Arnold. It was one of the twenty-eight pilot projects in guided missiles he had ordered the Army Air Forces to initiate in the spring of 1946 with the $34 million he had earlier skimmed off the bountiful stream of Second World War funds and set aside for this purpose. As a result, in April 1946, the laboratories at Wright Field awarded the leading California aircraft firm that was to build the B-36 for SAC, Convair, a $1.4 million study contract for two missiles capable of 5,750 miles. One, a subsonic cruise type, was dropped, but work went forward on the other, a ballistic missile that was to soar into space. In June 1946, Wright Field added another $493,000 to bring the contract close to $2 million and agreed to let Convair fabricate ten smaller, scaled-down test missiles so that knowledge could be gleaned from actual firings.

A Belgian-born engineer named Karel J. Bossart was put in charge of the project, code-designated MX-774 (the initials stand for “Missile Experimental”). “Charlie” Bossart had graduated from the University of Brussels in 1925 as a mining engineer and then decided that the upper atmosphere interested him more than the subterranean. He won a fellowship to study aeronautical engineering at MIT and stayed on this side of the Atlantic. His specialty was aeronautical structures, which turned out to be a blessing, but he had virtually no experience with missiles, other than a brief acquaintanceship with an early Navy antiaircraft missile called the Lark. This too turned out to be a blessing, as he was sufficiently detached not to begin by using the wonder of the day, the German V-2, as a model on which to improve. Instead, he set himself and his team the task of creating a distinctly different and better missile.

The V-2 was a sturdy missile. It had double walls of sheet metal welded and riveted into place and supported by internal braces. The casing of the warhead was steel plate. The whole weighed 27,376 pounds when fueled with its alcohol and liquid-oxygen rocket propellants. Wernher von Braun and the other originators of the V-2 conceived this design because it did not occur to them to have the warhead separate itself from the rest of the missile at some point in flight. Instead, the V-2 flew up into space and then the entire missile—warhead filled with 1,650 pounds of high explosive, the by now empty fuel tanks, the guidance system, rocket engine, and all—came back down through the earth’s atmosphere to its target. The V-2’s rocket engine, which generated only 56,000 pounds of thrust, limited the missile to an average range of 180 miles. (A maximum of 220 miles could be attained by lightening the warhead.) Bossart and his team confronted a challenge of far greater magnitude. They had to propel a warhead thirty-two times farther than the V-2’s. And it would probably be thousands of pounds heavier. In these years before the thermonuclear breakthrough in the Mike test of 1952, the assumption was that the warhead would be the atomic, or fission, type, which exploded with considerably less force than a hydrogen, or fusion, bomb. To make the missile as potent as possible, the fission bomb constituting the warhead would therefore have to be a big one weighing well beyond 2,000 pounds. The weight of the missile thus became a critical factor. If Bossart followed the V-2 design pattern, he would end up with a missile so huge and so heavy that it was difficult to imagine any rocket engine or cluster of rocket engines powerful enough to lift it off and send the warhead 5,750 miles.

Bossart’s first conclusion was that it was a foolish waste of rocket engine power to propel the entire missile all the way to the target. He could gain range relative to thrust if he built a missile with a warhead that broke free of the main body. The moment of separation would occur when the rocket was at the correct angle and speed so that its momentum would, in effect, hurl the warhead through space in a trajectory that would carry the bomb to its target. He then turned to the body of the missile. The lighter the missile body, the potentially heavier the warhead could be, because more of the thrusting power of the rocket engines could be devoted to lifting the bomb rather than spent getting its delivery vehicle into the air. His answer was to create a missile body that was simply a tank for the rocket propellants. The tank was made of thinly rolled aluminum alloy. (Later stainless steel rolled as thin as a wafer would be employed.) In a further saving of weight, there were no internal supports to prevent this balloon tank from collapsing. Instead, the tank was filled with inert nitrogen gas to keep it pressurized to full extension until the time came to pump in the propellants. The bottom of the tank was attached to a bulkhead strong enough to hold the rocket engines.

The fourth and extremely important contribution Bossart and his teammates made to American rocketry was to invent an effective technique to steer the missile in flight. The Germans had been able to steer the V-2 after a fashion by installing movable vanes in the thrust opening at the base of the rocket engine, fabricated from graphite so that they would not melt in the furnace of the rocket’s flame. These did not work that well and reduced the engine’s power. The Bossart group’s approach to the steering problem was to mount the four rocket engines in the cluster that would power their test missile on swivels. The swivels were connected by rods to an autopilot and gyroscope mechanism, which could be programmed to guide the missile on a given course. There was a limitation. The swivels could swing each of the four engines in the cluster in only one preselected direction. Nevertheless, this was a marked improvement over the vanes in the V-2 and pointed the way toward the later mounting of rocket engines on gimbals, which could swing in any direction.

By 1947, the armed services were strapped by peacetime money rationing. That July 1, just as the first test missile was almost finished, Project MX-774 was canceled. The newly independent U.S. Air Force did, however, allow Convair to use the funds in the contract still unspent to construct two additional research rockets and to test-fire all three at the Army’s White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. They were trim rockets, shimmering in the New Mexico sun, thirty-one feet tall from the fins at the base to the pencil point tip at the top of the nose cone. The four-engine cluster provided 8,000 pounds of thrust. The hope was that the missiles would reach an altitude of about one hundred miles so that Bossart and his fellow engineers could fully test all their ideas. None did, however, because of engine burnout. The third and last MX-774, launched in December 1948, reached an altitude of thirty miles before it too failed and started down to destruction on the desert floor. Nevertheless, enough was learned, from earlier static tests of the swiveling system for the engines as well as from these live firings, to conclude that the innovations would work.

Convair invested its own funds in further research directed by Bossart and on January 23, 1951, after the scare provoked by the war in Korea had replenished its coffers, the Air Force revived the project by giving Convair a new study contract. The specifications were outlandish. They reflected the abiding dilemma of the weight inherent in a fission bomb warhead and a consequent accuracy requirement precise enough to ensure massive destruction of the target by a weapon with far less bang than a hydrogen bomb. The Air Force wanted a missile that would throw an 8,000-pound warhead 5,750 miles and strike its target with an average accuracy (CEP) of just 1,500 feet. Convair responded with equally outlandish specifications for the ballistic missile that would loft this mammoth warhead. Code-named Atlas by Convair, the rocket was to measure 160 feet in height and twelve feet in diameter. By October 1953, new specifications had been worked out that were supposed to be a compromise. They were still outlandish. The warhead weight had been reduced to 3,000 pounds, but the wishing-well accuracy requirement of 1,500 feet lingered. And the missile itself remained a monster. It was to be 110, rather than 160, feet in height, but still twelve feet in diameter, would weigh 440,000 pounds fully loaded with fuel, and needed a cluster of five rocket engines putting out a combined thrust of 656,100 pounds to lift it. This was where the project stood when the Tea Pot Committee, organized in late September and early October 1953, took it up.

Approximately four months later, on February 10, 1954, the committee’s inquiry was complete and its final recommendations forwarded to Trevor Gardner with a covering letter from Simon Ramo. Gardner could not have asked for a better outcome if he had written the committee’s report himself. What he had essentially wanted was validation by these eminent scientists that an ICBM was technically feasible. He got this and he got a great deal more. The committee said that not only was the unstoppable weapon feasible, the first ready-to-fire ICBM could be produced by 1960–61 and enough missiles to constitute a deterrent threat to the Soviet Union could be fielded by 1962–63. However, this goal was contingent, the committee said, on the Air Force conducting a “radical reorganization” of the project. The measures it recommended for this reorganization were also just the sort that Gardner had in mind. The scientists came to the same conclusion he had that the nation’s Second World War-era aircraft industry was incapable of bringing to fruition a project as technologically challenging and complex as this one. They too sought the creation of an organization that would constitute the seed of an American aerospace industry.

To begin with, the committee recommended that, except for some limited additional research, the Air Force halt all further work by Convair. “The most urgent and immediate need,” the committee said, was for the Air Force to set up a “new IBMS development group, which … should be given directive responsibility for the entire project.” (IBMS were the original initials for Intercontinental Ballistic Missile System, later changed to ICBM to avoid confusion with the initials for the International Business Machines Corporation, IBM.) This command group was also to exercise its “overriding control” with a unique independence and freedom from bureaucratic harassment and was to be composed of “an unusually competent group of scientists and engineers.” (Gardner thought he already knew how to find this scientific and engineering talent and so did Schriever. Shortly after the submission of the Tea Pot report, Schriever and Gardner put the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation on hold with another letter contract from Schriever’s Development Planning Office, this one for further missile research.) “Within a year” of study and experimentation, the committee predicted, a group of this quality would be “in a position to recommend in full detail a redirected, expanded, and accelerated program” that would meet its beginning of the 1960s deployment schedule for the missiles.

The report also lent assurance to von Neumann’s pronouncement to Schriever and Gardner that a hydrogen warhead weighing less than a ton, yet with a megaton’s blast, could be readied by the end of the decade. “The warhead weight might be reduced as far as 1500 lbs,” the committee said, and its diameter scaled down as well. Given the advent of thermonuclear weaponry, the committee said that the impossible accuracy requirement of 1,500 feet, tied to a lower-yield fission warhead, should be extended to a CEP of “at least two, and probably three, nautical miles [2.3 to 3.4 statute miles].” (For some reason, von Neumann had been unable to persuade his colleagues on the Nuclear Weapons Panel of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, which he also headed, to predict a one-megaton bomb of less than a ton in an October report on the panel’s deliberations. The closest they got was a three-ton bomb yielding two megatons.)

The Tea Pot Committee said that the final decision on the warhead should be left to the results of the Castle series of thermonuclear tests at Bikini Atoll that von Neumann had spoken of in his meeting the previous May with Schriever and Walkowicz. A 23,500-pound dry thermonuclear device, fueled with lithium deuteride and misnamed Shrimp, was set off on March 1, the first day of the tests. The physicists from the Los Alamos Laboratory discovered they had miscalculated somewhat the forces they were about to liberate. They had predicted that Shrimp would go off with a detonation of five megatons. Instead it ran amuck to fifteen megatons, one for every 1,566 pounds. The 1,500-pound, one-megaton missile warhead indispensable to the building of a practicable ICBM was now a certainty. Gardner, and Schriever always working closely with him through these developments, could count on substantially trimming the dimensions of the 110-foot-high monster ICBM most recently proposed by Convair and reducing its 440,000-pound weight by roughly half.

Johnny von Neumann tipped the issue decisively in their favor by injecting a clincher argument into the committee’s report. It was once again based on the fear that drove American military technology, in this case fear that the United States was already caught in a race with the Soviet Union to determine which of the two great powers would be the first to build an ICBM. As Schriever recalled many years later, there was no firm evidence at the time that America confronted such a race; in fact, no hard intelligence at all on Soviet missile work. Nor would there be for another year and a half. Not until mid-1955 would Gardner succeed in setting up a long-range radar installation and electronic eavesdropping posts in Turkey to monitor missile firings at the Soviets’ then main testing range at Kapustin Yar in southern Russia, on the dusty, dismal Astrakhan steppe about seventy-five miles east of where Stalingrad (subsequently renamed Volgograd) lies in the bend of the Volga River.

The Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (Wright Field had been amalgamated with neighboring Patterson Field into a single installation after the Air Force was proclaimed independent in 1947) believed the Soviets were making swift advances in a number of guided missile types, but there was no proof. In late 1951 and early 1952, the center also received reports that the Soviets had built a super-rocket engine producing 265,000 pounds of thrust, twice as powerful as any American counterpart, and precisely the sort of engine most useful for an ICBM. The engine reports proved to be false. Senior Air Force intelligence officers were, in any case, focused mainly on Russian progress in bombers. At the time, no one who mattered in the U.S. intelligence community was concerned about the possibility of a missile gap, which John Kennedy was to make one of the main slogans of his successful run for the presidency in 1960. The National Intelligence Estimate for 1953 put out by the CIA, an annual top secret report that collates and summarizes the collective judgment of all the nation’s intelligence agencies on subjects of importance, does not even mention Soviet missile activities.

What intelligence did exist had mostly been gleaned from interviews with the German rocket specialists whom the Russians had released and allowed to go home, the last sizable group returning to Germany in November 1953. Once the Soviets had milked the Germans of their expertise, however, they had been careful to isolate them from more advanced missile designs and experimentation. As early as the fall of 1950, most had been excluded from secret work. The existence and location of Kapustin Yar had first been learned from a Red Army general and rocket expert named Gregory A. Tokady (also known as Tokaty-Tokaev), who had defected to the British in 1948. But an attempt to photograph it in late August 1953 by a British twin-jet Canberra bomber, with a large, oblique-looking camera fitted into its aft fuselage by RAF and U.S. Air Force photoreconnaissance technicians, had nearly ended in disaster. As the plane was approaching Kapustin Yar, it was intercepted and shot up by Russian fighters and was vibrating so badly from damage when it reached the test range that the photographs were useless. Fortunately for the crew, the Canberra was battle-worthy enough to hold itself together while they turned south along the Volga and across the Caspian Sea to land safely in Iran. The RAF did not try any more daytime spy flights deep into Russia.

No one in the United States knew that on March 15, 1953, the better part of two months before Bennie Schriever ventured up to Princeton to see von Neumann, the first Soviet medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), the R-5, had been test-fired from Kapustin Yar without a hitch and had flown its full 800-mile range. Subsequently named the SS-3 Shyster by NATO intelligence officers, the R-5 was designed to carry a nuclear warhead. Through espionage or through their own high competence, Soviet missileers had gained and were employing some of the same ideas, like separating warheads and swiveling engines to steer their rockets, that Charlie Bossart and his crew had brain-stormed in 1946 and 1947 for the MX-107B. The men who led these Russian missile advances, men like Sergei Korolev, the chief rocket designer, and Valentin Glushko, the principal rocket engine maker, were still anonymous figures hidden behind the high wall of a closed society. Their identities were regarded as high secrets, officially to protect them from assassination by American agents, but actually because of the Soviet state’s obsessive concern with security. Most important, nothing was known of the decision by the Politburo at the end of 1953 to base the Soviet Union’s nuclear strategy on long-range missiles, rather than on an imitation of SAC’s bombers, and to commence the building of an ICBM to carry the hydrogen bomb Moscow was to acquire in two years. The United States was indeed caught in a missile race, a strategic competition of profound importance of which it was quite unaware, and in which it was behind.

The Russophobia ingrained in von Neumann by his Hungarian youth led him to perceive the danger, as did the incisive logic of his mind. The committee had been briefed on currently available intelligence on Soviet missile activities. Because the information was so sparse and inconclusive, there was a dispute within the committee about what to believe. In his initial draft of the committee’s report, Ramo wrote that “the Russians are probably significantly ahead of us in long-range ballistic missiles.” After about half the committee members objected, he came up with fuzzy compromise language to try to bridge the gap. Von Neumann would not hold for this fence straddling. In a statement he insisted on appending to the report, he argued, in effect, that however imprecise the evidence, responsible men should err on the side of caution and conclude that a race was on and that the Russians were leading.

He began by focusing on another reason Ramo had raised for building an ICBM with “unusual urgency.” This, von Neumann noted, was “a rapid strengthening of the Soviet defenses against our SAC manned bombers.” He was referring to an integrated air defense system of radars, jet interceptors equipped with air-to-air missiles like Ramo and Wooldridge’s Falcon, and batteries of surface-to-air missiles. The Soviets were indeed busy putting together such an air defense system, as Schriever had already discovered, though he had been rebuffed by Curtis LeMay when he had sought to persuade LeMay to have SAC’s bombers adopt evasive tactics in a low-level approach rather than the high-level one LeMay favored. This reason alone was sufficient for proceeding with an ICBM project, von Neumann said in a prophetic comment, because one could expect the Soviet air defense system to be in place “during the second half of this decade.” And so it was when the Russians demonstrated what formidable air defenses they had deployed by shooting down the U-2 in 1960 at a moment the Soviet leadership must have savored, news of it arriving while Nikita Khrushchev and the rest of the Soviet chieftains were assembling atop Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow’s Red Square to review the annual May Day Parade of armed might. As for information on Soviet progress toward an ICBM, von Neumann conceded it was true that “available intelligence data are insufficient to make possible a precise estimate.” Nevertheless, he argued, “evidence exists of an appreciation of this field” by the Soviets and there was “activity in some important phases of guided missiles” connected with development of an ICBM. “Thus,” he concluded ominously, “while the evidence may not justify a positive conclusion that the Russians are ahead of us, a grave concern in this regard is in order.” When a scientist of von Neumann’s reputation spoke this solemnly, who could fail to pay attention?

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