When most people think about the military, they fail to consider the important role that space has played in protecting and defending the citizens of the United States of America. Because the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is not considered a part of the United States’ military branch, their militaristic efforts are often overlooked. Unfortunately, this oversight allows for the exclusion of some of the most crucial events in military history, especially collaborations between the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to NASA, and the United States Air Force (USAF). Thanks to the pioneers in the study of military space, the United States currently uses superior technology to protect the nation in outer space and will continue to do so in the future.
Although there were collaborations with aeronautics and military forces prior to the 1920s, these efforts solely involved aircraft within Earth’s atmosphere. It was not until the 1940s that space became an important component to the United States military. In 1946, the Signal Corps sent “radio-echo transmissions between the Earth and the Moon, [which] proved radio transmission across space was feasible with moderate power” (“History Timelines”). Then, in the 1950s, during what is popularly known as the “space race”, the interest in military space, as well as any other space-related activity, increased drastically. Only twelve days after the U.S.S.R. announced that it was considering launching an earth satellite, in January 1955, the Department of Defense declared that a program for the creation of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was in place; the ICBM Titan was launched less than ten years later and became the standard launch vehicle for the U.S. By 1957, President Eisenhower declared “we are willing to enter any reliable agreement which would mutually control the outer space missile and satellite development” (“History Timelines”) in his State-of-the-Union address. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration began operating in 1958, proving to be one of the most critical military space events ever. In December 1958, the USAF sent a communications relay satellite into orbit, under the name PROJECT SCORE, and beamed down Eisenhower’s Christmas message to the American public. A little over a year later, in January 1960, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency formally became a part of NASA and was renamed the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, named after America’s foremost soldier during WWII. This organization included Wernher von Braun’s “rocket team” that “had been instrumental in building the V-2 rocket, the world’s first operational long-range ballistic missile” (“History Timelines”). In the 1970s, researcher Richard Whitcomb designed a supercritical wing that increased fuel efficiency for aircraft, a concept that continues to be used today. During that decade, in 1975, The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project became the first international human space flight, a joint effort between the United States and the Soviet Union, which “was more a symbol of the lessening of tensions between the two superpowers than a significant scientific endeavor” (“History Timelines”). In 1982, the “Air Force established Air Force Space Command, with space operations as its primary mission” (“Fact Sheets”). This organization assisted the nation during the Cold War, as well as during Operation Desert Storm in 1991; it continues to “defend North America through its space and intercontinental ballistic missile operations” (“Fact Sheets”).
In the past, the military has used space primarily for communication and satellite purposes. Today, however, the utilization of space for weaponry placement and new styles of espionage is becoming an increasingly popular idea. Operation Desert Storm is known as the first space-enabled war because “the multinational coalition efforts against Iraq were aided by the use of a range of space-based assets, which gave the coalition forces enhanced communications, navigation and reconnaissance/surveillance capabilities” (McLean). This technology was especially important because the Iraqis did not possess any of the same resources, therefore giving the United States a large advantage. Then, during the U.S. operations in Kosovo in 1999, the use of space allowed real-time maps to be sent to the cockpit of military aircraft. The same year, the Department of Defense outlined the specific roles of space in today’s military. This directive stated that space is as valuable as land, sea, or air, is an area that can be used for national security purposes, and is under the sovereign rights of the U.S, which allows the military to defend against the interference of national space systems. With each major military undertaking, specifically war, the United States has improved its use of space-enabled warfare. For instance, “in Desert Storm, fewer than 5 percent of aircraft were GPS-equipped. By Iraqi Freedom, all were” (Dolman). The most important aspect of the nation’s current usage of military space is combat efficiency.
GPS systems have been particularly helpful in the new age of military space, allowing for precision-guided missiles, specific location identification, and improved usage of receivers. In the difficult terrains of Iraq and Afghanistan, space systems allow instruments to be utilized in all types of weather and at any time of the day or night. The United States is currently the country most reliant on space and, thus, has made greater strides in the different uses of space than any other nation. “Today the space role is more diverse, encompassing the broader economic and technological aspects of a wide array of space systems, including commercial systems, as being an integral part of the national security base of the USA” (McLean). In fact, in 2004, the National Security Space Office was created to coordinate intelligence and space activities (“National Security Space Office”), an effort that will continue well into the future.
Due to the rapidly increasing demand for military space technology, the United States must expand its personnel involved in this area and continue to produce improved equipment. “Space-based systems, transmitting data, voice and video, will continue to play a critical part in collecting and distributing information. Space is also a medium in which highly valuable applications are being developed and around which highly lucrative economic endeavors are being built” (“Executive Summary”). With the increasing threat of global terrorism, the nation is faced with a crucial decision about the creation of space weaponry. One may argue that a world power, such as the U.S., must follow the advances in technology and extend its resources to include military space equipment. Although the country’s advancement in military space may rely somewhat on space weaponry, there is hesitation due to the fact that such machinery could create or assist in creating a state of global war. More importantly, the creation of space weaponry would nullify the agreement to keep space peaceful and open a new territory for military action, thus bringing national and public safety into question. “Intelligence collected from space remains essential to U.S. national security. It is essential to the formulation of foreign and defense policies, the capacity of the President to manage crises and conflicts, the conduct of military operations and the development of military capabilities to assure the attainment of U.S. objectives” (“Executive Summary”). Throughout history, space technology has been innovative and revolutionary in the expansion of military programs. Because of the growing safety concerns, heightened state of terror, and the continuous urge for world dominance, the United States’ presence in space and usage thereof will only continue to grow.
Dolman, Everett C. “A Debate About Weapons in Space: For U.S. Military Transformation and Weapons in Space.” SAIS Review 26.1 (2006): 163-174. OmniFile Full Text Mega. Richard Stockton College Library, Pomona, NJ. 07 Nov. 2007 .
McLean, Alasdair. “A new era? Military space policy enters the mainstream.” Space Policy 16.4 (2000): 243-247. Science Direct. Richard Stockton College Library, Pomona, NJ. 07 Nov. 2007 .
United States. Air Force Space Command. Fact Sheets: Air Force Space Command. Jan. 2007. 07 Mar. 2007 .
United States. Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization. Executive Summary. Washington: Central Intelligence Agency’s Printing and Photography Group, 2001. 07 Mar. 2007 .
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration History Division. History Timelines. 30 July 2004. 07 Mar. 2007 .
United States. National Security Space Office. National Security Space Office Home Page. 25 Jan. 2006. 07 Mar. 2007 .