The ultimate high ground. (A Centennial of Flight Special Feature).
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when America decided to exploit space. It wasn't like it woke up one morning in the early 1950s and said, "I think I'd like a cell phone, so let's blast a 10,000-pound satellite 22,000 miles into space."
No. It wasn't like that at all. America's reaction to space was more like, "Hmmmm, you say we should invest millions of dollars on unknown space programs when the Soviet Union can drop a hydrogen bomb on us?"
Good point. In 1949, the Soviet Union successfully tested an atomic bomb, and in August 1953 detonated a hydrogen bomb. These events triggered a deep-seated fear of "the bomb."
A poll of Americans taken in the mid-1950s showed more than half believed they were more likely to die in a nuclear attack than from old age, according to Curtis Peebles, author of "High Frontier," published for the Air Force History and Museum Program in 1997. Fueling that fear, the Soviet Union lifted its Iron Curtain in 1954 to reveal a Soviet-built, long-range jet bomber capable of carrying a hydrogen bomb. To many Americans, it appeared the United States was lagging behind in technology.
"The launch of the Sputnik satellite in October 1957 was a crucial event in space history," said Skip Bradley, Air Force Space Command historian. "Even though the United States had been working on a space program, it didn't receive great public interest until the launch of Sputnik."
Unbeknownst to the public, however, in 1946 the Army Air Forces turned to a military think tank known as Project RAND to learn more about building an observation aircraft that couldn't be brought down by the enemy. The military wanted to use it for targeting observation and to learn more about weather over enemy territories.
"In the late 1940s, reconnaissance was close to the top of the list for the first space missions," said Rick Sturdevant, Air Force Space Command deputy historian. "The Army Air Forces asked RAND to report on the possibility of launching an earth-circling spaceship. It wanted such a craft for bomb-damage assessment, weather observation, reconnaissance and communications."
According to the 1946 RAND report, "In making the decision as to whether or not to undertake construction of such a craft now, it is not inappropriate to view our present situation as similar to that in airplanes prior to the flight of the Wright brothers. We can see no more clearly all the utility and implications of spaceships than the Wright brothers could see fleets of B-29s bombing Japan and air transports circling the globe."
However, the study had little influence on space program development. A couple of years later, the Cold War was well under way, and Americans realized they knew less and less about their adversaries. Fear of the unknown left them uneasy.
So, in the early 1950s, the United States began exploring ways to keep a wary eye on its communist foes, as well as to create a deterrent force against possible aggression.
Balloon idea pops
At the start of the Cold War, the United States began probing the borders of the Soviet Union using aerial reconnaissance weather aircraft to sniff out nuclear testing. However, the interior of the world's largest country remained a mystery to the United States.
In 1950, the best idea for peering into the unknown land was to use camera-carrying weather balloons that could reach above the ceiling of enemy jet fighters and ride the jet stream over the 6.6-million-square-mile Soviet Union. The balloons would launch from Europe. Then, once clear of Soviet air space, a radio signal would cut the dangling gondolas free from the balloons. Descending by parachutes, the gondolas would be caught in midair by C-119 transport aircraft or recovered in the ocean.
In early 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized use of the balloons, but the project failed miserably. Of the 448 balloons launched, the U.S. recovered only 40. According to "High Frontier," the 13,813 photos covered a million square miles of the Soviet Union and China, but since the balloons' paths couldn't be controlled, many of the photographs were of trees, cows and such. The program was cancelled.
Fears of a possible Soviet surprise attack deepened. Enter the U-2 aircraft, which America began using in 1956. The American public didn't learn about the U-2 flights, or about two other secrets--missile and satellite development--until much later.
Soviets lead space race
The Soviet Union announced in August 1957 that it had successfully launched the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile. A month later, after four mishaps, a U.S. intermediate-range ballistic missile called Thor completed its first satisfactory flight.
Two months later, although not missile related but even more explosive, the Soviets launched the Sputnik I satellite. Space was smack dab in the face of the American public. Since the Soviets had beaten America into orbit, the U.S. media had a field day with the space program. It was perceived that the United States was years behind the Soviet Union in space technology. Retired Air Force Gen. Bernard Schriever, however, had a different story.
"The press trumpeted the fact that we were behind the Soviets," he was quoted from a speech at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., in 1999. "But we were, in fact, not behind once triggered by the Sputnik our record in getting space capability was unmatched."
As a brigadier general, Schriever assumed command of the Western Development Division in June 1954, a full three years before the Sputnik launch. Later known as the Ballistic Missile Division, its humble beginnings started in a former schoolhouse in Inglewood, Calif. So secret was its mission that everyone who worked there wore civilian clothes to avoid attracting attention.
A Schriever-led team said in 1956 that a satellite could be launched into orbit using an Atlas Series C missile as the boost vehicle and be fully operational by 1963. According to Robert Perry, author of the then-classified study "Origins of the USAF Space Program 1945-1956," Schriever's group received Air Force headquarters authorization to develop the new system. But instead of getting the $39.1 million estimated to complete the project, it received a mere $3 million. The project limped along.
However, the Soviet's launch of the world's first satellite changed everything. Having just been appointed secretary of defense in 1957, Neil McElroy ordered the Air Force to accelerate its missile programs.
"The weapons of the future may be a great deal closer upon us than we had thought," McElroy said. "Therefore the ultimate survival of the nation depends more than ever before on the speed and skill with which we can pursue the development of advanced weapons."
Given the green light, it didn't take long for the Air Force to declare the Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile operational in September 1959. It proved to be a key moment in space history, according to Robert Mulcahy, Space and Missile Systems Center historian in Los Angeles.
"If the Soviet Union produced a significant number of operational ICBMs before the United States, communism could have gained a decisive strategic advantage over the Free World," Mulcahy said.
Race for the universe
Like the missile program, the budding U.S. satellite program struggled to stay alive until the Sputnik launch. Peebles quoted then-Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson as saying, "It is unpleasant to feel that there is something floating around in the air which the Russians can put up and we can't. It really doesn't matter whether the satellite has any military value. The important thing is that the Russians have left the Earth, and the race for the control of the universe has started."
Since the first U.S. attempt to launch a satellite--Project Vanguard in December 1957--ended in an explosion, America turned to the Army's Explorer 1 in January 1958 to accomplish the first successful orbit of an American satellite.
Although military planners envisioned American satellites in orbit carrying equipment to detect a Soviet missile attack, it wasn't until the development of the Missile Defense Alarm System in 1958 that the mission of nuclear-testing detecting fell directly under the Air Force. Eventually, MIDAS satellites proved the value of infrared early warning of a ballistic missile attack, according to Peebles.
In the early 1970s, the early-warning Defense Support Program satellites began operation. They proved themselves for decades, and came into the public's eye later during the Persian Gulf War by warning troops of incoming Iraqi scud missile attacks.
Mulcahy said he felt the most important U.S. space product during the Cold War was the Corona reconnaissance satellite.
"It provided unprecedented intelligence films of the Soviet Union that allowed the United States to determine and monitor the Soviet threat in nuclear weapons and conventional forces," Mulcahy said.
He may have been right. When Capt. Francis Gary Powers was shot down in his U-2 and captured deep inside the Soviet Union on May 1,1960, the United States admitted responsibility and stopped the aerial missions. With the U-2 gone, America had lost its "eye in the sky." However, three months after the U-2 incident, a U.S. space capsule launched from Discoverer XIV provided the first images of Earth taken from space. It was called the Discoverer Program--classified as Project Corona--and continued under a veil of the highest secrecy.
Under President John F. Kennedy, the U.S. government didn't acknowledge using satellites for reconnaissance--a policy that remained in effect until 1978.
The Corona satellites gave the United States a clear picture of the Soviet Union, revealing to U.S. officials that America had superior strategic forces. The notions of a Soviet "bomber gap" were dispelled. The images helped Kennedy decide on taking a firm stance during the Cuban Missile Crisis [See "On the Brink of Doom," October 2001] In October 1962, Kennedy threatened "full retaliatory response" against the Soviet Union in the event of a Cuban missile launch. Combine that with the fact that the United States had been building missile sites quicker than Erector sets on Christmas Day, and he felt he held the cards.
In addition to deterrence, the United States successfully designed the Vela satellite system to detect nuclear explosions in conjunction with Earth-based systems of radars and cameras that could track satellites in orbit.
Another milestone in the evolution of military space operations happened in September 1982, when the military activated the Air Force's Space Command. It eventually took over command and control for most military satellites including the navigational Global Positioning System; the Defense Satellite Communications System and Milstar Satellite Communications Program for secure voice transmissions and high-rate data communications; the weather-predicting Defense Meteorological Satellite Program; and the Defense Support Program for detecting missile and space launches. The command also was given the responsibility of protecting these programs.
While space technology moved ahead at the speed of light, America's age-old foe was backpedaling. The Cold War with the Soviet Union showed signs of cooling because of the slow collapse of the Soviet economy, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks in 1972 limited offensive ICBMs. While people were still selling parts of the Berlin Wall that crumbled in 1989 and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 to become known as the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991 further reduced the number of warheads the United States and Russia could maintain and eliminated missiles with multiple warheads.
Although START II was never ratified, both countries agreed to further limit the number of warheads in its arsenal, and the Moscow Treaty of May 2002 set limits well below START II. The last Minuteman II missiles were dismantled and stored for use as launch vehicles, according to Space and Missile Center historian Harry Waldron, and 150 Minuteman III missile sites were destroyed during 1999 to 2001. Recently, the United States decided to deactivate its Peacekeeper missiles by 2007. Additionally, Waldron said that in 2002 the United States withdrew from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 to develop a national missile defense system.
Defending the homeland
Today, there's a new missile detection system joining the arsenal -- the Space-Based Infrared System. This is an advanced missile warning satellite and ground station system that will perform missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence and battle space characterization. It's the replacement for the Defense Support Program. In essence, it'll warn America of any missile launch worldwide.
In addition, the Missile Defense Agency, once known as the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, has been conducting intercept tests of ICBM targets since 1999.
"It's like hitting a bullet with a bullet, only much faster," said Lt. Col. Rick Lehner, the agency's spokesman, about the ground-based midcourse defense segment, formerly known as national missile defense.
If an enemy fires a missile at the United States, America will shoot it out of the sky more than 140 miles above Earth using an interceptor missile. The missiles will collide at a closing speed of more than 15,000 mph. In addition to ground-based sites in Alaska and California, the Missile Defense Agency and the Navy are testing sea-based systems that'II have the same results against short- to medium-range missiles.
For cost savings and reliability, the newest innovation in spacelift is the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, one version built by Boeing and the other by Lockheed Martin [See "The Next Generation," March 2003]. To increase lift capability for changing mission requirements, each contractor uses a standard booster core with a flexible payload "attachment." These rockets are expected to cut the cost of space launches by 25 to 50 percent, saving an estimated $6 billion in launch costs over the next 18 years.
Technology vs. man
Transforming to an air and space force not only means migrating some technology to space, but also educating war fighters so they can grasp and use this new technology.
To illustrate this point, Secretary of the Air Force James Roche is fond of reciting a story from his mentor, Andy Marshall, head of the Office of Net Assessment in the Pentagon.
"If we were to take an M-16 rifle and go back to King Arthur's day and give it to a knight, the knight would get on his horse and try to knock the other guy off with it. He wouldn't think of getting behind a tree and shooting him," Roche said. "It's so much easier to change the weapon the knight carries than it is to change the way the knight thinks."
In the vein of changing the way space warriors think, the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, already offers a master's program in systems engineering. To keep up with the latest technology, Roche said the Air Force Academy is planning to create an academic major in systems engineering to help officers in air operations centers, battle managers and others think in engineering terms.
Past to present
Before Sputnik, the Air Force was slow to climb on board the space bandwagon, but once it did, it excelled. Now, space programs have become an integral part of military operations, both in peace and wartime.
"Nowadays, thanks to space, in the first few days of a conflict we can shut [the enemy's] eyes, ears and ability to talk," Schriever said. "Then you can apply your forces with much less risk. Just look at what happened in the Persian Gulf and in the Balkans--entirely different from Korea and Vietnam. Space had everything to do with that.
"Just like air superiority has been for the 20th century, the same thing is true, maybe even more so, with the control of space."
RELATED ARTICLE: Taking the high ground
The man responsible for all Air Force space-based reconnaissance and intelligence systems--from satellites to space-based radar--says the United States must increase space control abilities and be able to deny adversaries use of the "high ground."
Peter Teets, undersecretary of the Air Force, has set top priorities for national security of space he says will help the United States keep the upper hand. His goals are:
3-2-1 Blastoff--Guarantee mission success in space operations through successful launches. "We must gain and control the high ground and work to shape our space activities to secure America's future in its fight against terrorism," Teets said. By year's end, he wants to be 14 for 14 in launch success.
Share systems--Integrate space war-fighting capabilities and national intelligence. "In the past, these systems have remained independent," said Teets, a 34-year veteran of space operations. "There are a lot of national intelligence system satellites that can provide vital information for ground troops. We've come a long way since Desert Storm, but we can do more."
Better manage space programs--Meld all space acquisition knowledge in one place. "We need a world-class database with an independent cost estimation capability--a singular capability across the space community that takes advantage of all space acquisition histories, Teets said. He also wants to streamline the acquisition process. In addition, he recommends granting more resources to program managers. "We can empower program managers so they have adequate resources to solve problems."
Quicker and assured access--Launch spacecrafts more rapidly. Current space systems take weeks and months to prepare before they can lift off. "We want to use smaller systems that allow us to launch a spacecraft in a matter of hours or a day or two, not months," said Teets, who's held his current title for a little more than a year.
Develop an all-pro team--Build a team of space professionals to continue space development. "We're developing professional educational opportunities and rotating assignments so people get a more rounded background," Teets said.
Solicit new ideas--Search for innovative ideas for national intelligence and defense priorities. "We can do a better job collecting intelligence about our adversaries," Teets said. "For instance, the space-based radar provides not only ground mobile targeting, but radar imagery. These are breakthrough images. Another collaborative effort is to increase the bandwidth for all services with an Internet protocol that will provide easier access for people in war-fighting areas."
Control space--Improve space situational awareness and protect space assets. "We must become more aware of exactly where our space assets are and when they're available. We must also make sure we provide self-protection for those assets and deny adversaries their use of space," Teets said. Safeguarding U.S. assets will prevent a "space Pearl Harbor," he said.
Push space technology--Expand collaboration and unity of effort in space science and technology resources and programs. "We've had a significant advancement in focusing on space and technology in one place--not geographically in one place, but based under an umbrella of knowledge in all these areas." He said this allows them to "press the envelope."
Tech. Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
By the end of this year, the man responsible for all Air Force space-based reconnaissance and intelligence systems, Peter Teets, wants to be batting a thousand with 14 oF 14 successful launches.
Touted by some to be the most successful Air Force space system, Project Vela--Spanish for watchman--consisted of three elements. Vela Uniform monitored the ground for underground nuclear testing; Vela Sierra detected atmospheric and space tests; and Vela Hotel was a satellite system designed at first to scan above the horizon and detect nuclear testing in space. Vela instruments are now carried on other satellites, such as the Defense Support Program and Navstar Global Positioning System navigation satellites.
Maj. Gen. Bernard Schriever, known as the "Father of the Air Force's Space and Missile Programs," graced the cover of Time magazine during the in fancy of America's space program. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first successful launch of a missile into space in August 1957, triggering a race to space.
Thor was America's answer to the Soviet Union's Sputnik. In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower assigned the highest priority to the Thor program, but it wasn't until September 1957 that Thor successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, F/a. Later, the thrust-augmented Thor evolved into the Delta II.
The first Western Development Division headquarters building was in a schoolhouse in Inglewood, Calif. Wearing civilian clothes so they wouldn't attract attention, team members occupied the site From 1954 to 1955.
courtesy Space and Missile Systems Center History Office
The price of getting into space is going down. The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle is expected to cut space launch costs by 25 to 50 percent.
The Global Positioning System is u crossover product that has affected civilians just as much as the military. While civilian car and boat owners use the satellites to show them how to get from one place to another, today's precision-guided munitions are guided by the system. In this instance, a civil engineer uses the technology to quickly and accurately survey land points at Andersen Air Farce Base, Guam.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||American usage of space technology|
|Author:||Desjarlais, Orville F., Jr.|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2003|
|Previous Article:||Early aviation pioneers.|
|Next Article:||Grinding it out. (Airman's World).|