Schriever’s “Space Superiority” Speech

Feb. 1, 2007

Maj. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever

Commander, Western Development Division,

Air Research and Development Command

Address to Astronautics Symposium

Air Force Office of Scientific Research

San Diego

Feb. 19, 1957


Sputnik was still months away, but Maj. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever already was sounding a call to arms. “In the long haul,” he told a scientific gathering, “our safety as a nation may depend upon our achieving ‘space superiority.'” Time Magazine summed up the USAF general’s sensational remarks this way: “The conquest of outer space appears right around the corner—and that corner must soon be turned if the US is to maintain its air supremacy.”

Schriever headed Western Development Division, charged with developing a workable ICBM, and his speech dealt primarily with missiles. However, he had for the first time lifted the veil on the concept of a struggle for space. Then came the Soviet Union’s launching of Spuntnik on Oct. 4, 1957, and the race was on.

As commander of the Western Development Division, I am deeply engrossed in man’s first concerted attempt to penetrate outer space. The compelling motive for the development of space technology is the requirement for national defense. …

Since 1954, the United States has come a long way in the development of space technology. … What appears to be a logical future program? It is very difficult to make a firm prognosis on military need during a 20-year period for something as new and revolutionary as ballistic missiles, Earth satellites, and space vehicles. We are somewhat in the same position today as were military planners at the close of the First World War, when they were trying to anticipate the use of aircraft in the Second World War.

Consequently, my prognoses … go from those which are reasonably firm to those which might be considered visionary. Fortunately, there is a considerable overlap between the advances in the state of the art which are required for firm and for visionary military needs. …

A word is necessary on the relationship between military need and scientific feasibility in space technology. In the long haul, our safety as a nation may depend upon our achieving “space superiority.” Several decades from now, the important battles may not be sea battles or air battles, but space battles, and we should be spending a certain fraction of our national resources to insure that we do not lag in obtaining space supremacy.

Besides the direct military importance of space, our prestige as world leaders might well dictate that we undertake lunar expeditions and even interplanetary flight when the appropriate technological advances have been made and the time is ripe. Thus it is indeed fortunate that the technological advances required in support of military objectives can, in large part, directly support these more speculative space ventures. …

Now, where does all this lead? My thought is that the evolution of space vehicles will be a gradual step-by-step process, with the first step beyond ballistic missiles being unmanned, artificial Earth satellites and then perhaps unmanned exploratory flights to the Moon or Mars. These first flights would no doubt be research vehicles to gather scientific data and to accumulate information on space environmental conditions for future design use. The information gathered from these flights will supplement the information gathered from ballistic missile test flights.

Many of the things that we can learn from satellites will lead not only to a better understanding of conditions to be encountered in space, but will lead to a better understanding of our own planet. Weather reconnaissance can be accomplished in a more effective manner. This will lead to a better understanding of the movements of polar air masses and the course of jet streams and will permit improved long-range weather forecasts and improved aircraft and missile operations. A better understanding of the Earth’s magnetic field will lead to better radio communications, more reliable navigation instruments, and perhaps new ideas for propulsive devices. Refined data on the Earth’s gravitational effects will lead to improved guidance. Much remains to be known about cosmic rays. Unmanned satellites will be the means for obtaining this information.

I have described some of the benefits to be derived from our early ventures into space and the contributions the ICBM program is making in this direction. Payload capability of a future satellite could be in the order of hundreds or even a thousand pounds. Such payload would permit more instrumentation and many varied types of space experiments. …

Given vehicles with these capabilities, still another avenue for a scientific achievement is immediately opened. With additional rocket thrust, a lunar research vehicle may be possible. In view of the small additional cost of such an experiment, it seems certain that someday it will be tried. …

We can see that the ICBM program, through the technology it is fostering, the facilities that have been established, the industrial teams being developed, and the vehicles themselves, is providing the key to the further development of spaceflight. Many fascinating new horizons are sure to open within the next decade as a direct result.