CAPE KENNEDY -- The administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told Dr. Ralph D. Abernathy, civil rights leader, Tuesday that America's space program showed that unity could fight hunger problems as well as put a man on the moon.
Dr. Thomas O. Paine met with Dr. Abernathy and 150 poor blacks, mostly children and their mothers, in a field near the John F. Kennedy space center. Dr. Abernathy had declared that money spent sending men to the moon would be better used feeding persons on earth.
"If it were possible for us not to push that button tomorrow morning and solve the problems you are talking about, we would not push that button," Paine told Dr. Abernathy, alluding to Wednesday's scheduled launch of Apollo 11 toward the moon.
Help for future
But Paine said this would not solve hunger problems. He did say science would alleviate poverty situations in the future.
"I want you to hitch your wagon to our rocket and tell the people the NASA program is an example of what this country can do," Paine said.
"I personally and the members of the space program feel that the space program is a program for all America and we hope it will make a resolution for Amer icans to band together to fight the problems you are talking about," Paine said
Dr. Abernathy told Paine that the 25 Negro families he brought here from across the South were opposing the space shot but were protesting "a distorted sense of national priorities."
10 VIP Permits
Dr. Abernathy, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, asked that some of he blacks be provided good seats for the launch. Paine immediately issued him 10 "VIP" permits.
The Negro leader earlier toured the Cape Kennedy visitors center and stated that "America has reached out to the stars but has not reached out to her starving poor."
Several of the Abernathy followers held signs reading "billions for space, pennies for hunger," "moonshots breed malnutrition," and "rockets or rickets?"
Met by director
They were met by George M. Friedrich, the spaceport's tour director, who led them on a tour of exhibits and described Wednesday's manned moon-landing expedition as "probably the biggest event in the history of the world."
"I have not come to Cape Kennedy merely to experience the thrill of this launching," Dr. Abernathy said. "I am here on behalf of the people of the 51st state of hunger.
Hails space heroes
"On the eve of man's noblest venture, I am profoundly moved by the nation's achievements in space and the heroism of the three men embarking for the moon."
But, he added, "What we can do for space and exploration we demand that we do for starving people."