Space History: the Nascent Strategic Defense Initiative

Thirty years ago today — March 23, 1983 — President Ronald Reagan announced a research program that would eventually become the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

President Reagan called for a major research-and-development effort on space-based defenses against ballistic missile attacks. Some of the work I did in the Air Force was related to SDI, which became known (usually pejoratively) as “Star Wars.”

Those of us who were geeks of one stripe or another didn’t really mind the nickname.

According to this excerpt from Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War by Frances Fitzgerald,

The announcement, made in an insert into a routine defense speech, came as a surprise to everyone in Washington except for a handful of White House aides. The insert had not been cleared with the Pentagon, and although Reagan was proposing to overturn the doctrine which had ruled U.S. nuclear strategy for more than three decades, the secretary of defense and the secretary of state were informed only a day or so before the speech was broadcast.

I find that fascinating: visionary, and quite bold. I appreciate that.

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National Security Space History: Minuteman ICBM

Fifty years ago today — February 1, 1961 — an SM-80 Minuteman-IA intercontinental ballistic missile was successfully launched, marking the first test flight of the full-up solid-fueled ICBM.


(Minuteman-I missile. USAF image.)

Of more interest to me, this Air Force fact sheet notes that in April 1959 “Boeing launched the first Minuteman mockup at Edwards AFB, California. Test flights of mockup missiles continued into May 1960, all of which were successful.”

Why does that historical tidbit interest me so? Because many years later my first assignment was to the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory at Edwards, where those test flights had taken place. What made them remarkable was that those test flights at the Rock were tethered, meaning that after the missile left the silo* it was still shackled to the ground. I wish I had one of the images to post, of the missile trying to get away while sturdy lines held it fast.

Many of my friends spent tours of duty as missileers and missile maintainers, on later versions of the Minuteman as well as other ICBM systems. To each of them, and others whom I don’t know, I say: I’m grateful for your quiet diligence and your deterrent power which kept (and keeps) us secure. I salute you all.

___
*Which I visited many times, at Area 1-100.

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A Space Anniversary for the Cold Warriors

Forty-five years ago today — September 24, 1964 — a Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile launched for the first time on a test flight from Cape Canaveral.


(Blast door at the entrance to Launch Control Center Delta-01. Image from the National Park Service.)

Hats off to all my missileer friends whose alert posture kept us safe during the Cold War and beyond — and deter nuclear aggression today. It was an honor to serve with you, even if my part was just to put together emergency action messages.

If you’re planning to visit South Dakota, you might consider adding the Minuteman Missile National Historical Site to your travel itinerary.

And 10 years ago today, in 1999, an Athena rocket launched the Ikonos-2 remote sensing satellite from Vandenberg AFB. Ikonos-2 was a non-military reconnaissance satellite, and the first of a “new generation” of high-resolution (1 meter) commercial imagers.

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