The Battle for “Space Superiority”

April 1, 1957

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. For this reason, the Air Force ballistic missile program was assigned highest national priority and is being pressed forward with utmost rigor.

Since 1954, the United States has come a long way to the development of space technology. The Western Development Division was given full authority and responsibility for all aspects of the Air Force’s ballistic missile program at that time. … The program has already progressed through several important stages so that at this time, we can identify a number of significant accomplishments toward the conquest of space. …

Development Philosophy: Our development philosophy includes two elements: a philosophy of testing and a dual approach. Stated simply, the test philosophy requires a great deal of component reliability testing … before proceeding to subsystem testing, captive system testing, and on to launch. A second element is the multiple approach and back-up provision which calls for more than one contractor in the re-entry area, in guidance, in airframe, and in propulsion. Backing up this system developing is a comprehensive program of basic research in various fundamental areas. … This approach provides insurance against failure and increases confidence in meeting schedules.

Development Team and Industrial Base: The complexity and urgency of the ballistic missile program required the establishment of a unique development management group. To meet this need an unusual arrangement was made involving two major commands of the Air Force and an industrial contractor. Western Development Division, a division of Headquarters, Air Research and Development Command, was organized to exercise over-all supervision over the management complex.

As Commander of WDD, I have full authority and control over all aspects of the ballistic missile program. Serving also as Assistant to the Commander of ARDC, I am able to coordinate related activities of the various ARDC Centers, of which are ten. The Ballistic Missile Office of the Air Materiel Command is responsible to provide support in the areas of procurement and production, supply, maintenance engineering, and transportation. Brig. Gen. Ben I. Funk is in charge of the BMO office. Serving also as Assistant to the Commander, Air Materiel Command, he is able to secure cooperation from AMC and the Air Procurement Districts. The third member of the team is the Guided Missile Research Division of the Ramo-Wooldrige Corporation. This group of top-flight scientists and engineers is responsible for systems engineering for the entire Air Force ballistic missile program and technical direction of our contractors. The management complex is supported by sixteen major contractors representing the most competent elements of industry. Each contractor was selected on the basis of a competition.

Facilities: Since the ballistic missile program was accelerated in 1954, $470 million has been made available for new test installations and plant expansion. A substantial percentage of this total, over $100 million, is privately financed by both prime and sub-contractors. In airframe development, Convair, Douglas, and Martin have expanded present facilities or are building new ones. For example, at Convair in San Diego, a vast plant area was created virtually overnight for pilot production of Atlas airframes and within one year, cattle-grazing land at nearby Sycamore Canyon was converted to a complex for captive testing of the Atlas. Similar expansion has taken place in the engine development program at North American’s Rocketdyne facility near Los Angeles, and the Aerojet-General Corporation which has expanded its complex of facilities at Sacramento, to develop and produce engines for the Titan ICBM. And so it goes, with General Electric, Avco, Bell Telephone Laboratories, Lockheed, Burroughs, Remington Rand, MIT, AC Spark Plug, Arma, and many others.

Laboratory test equipment such as environmental test chambers, random noise vibration equipment, and data reduction equipment has been installed at contractors’ plants to accomplish the extensive environmental and reliability to accomplish the extensive environmental and reliability testing required. Major installations at Air Force Center provide means for captive and launch tests of the complete system including thousands of miles of instrumented range whose scope and complexity far exceeds any previous missile effort.

These few examples make it demonstrably evident that the Air Force’s ballistic missile program represents a concerted effort of unprecedented magnitude jointly pursued by the most competent and widespread government, science, and industry teams ever assembled on a single project. …

How else have the ICBM and IRBM programs contributed to the conquest of space? They have contributed in a very concrete sense from the standpoint of hardware that has been developed or is being developed for this program. A tremendous industrial capability is being built up and production know-how is being established in many new areas. … These airframe, propulsion, and guidance subsystems development and the data which will become available as ballistic missile test flights are made, will make possible a whole gambit of follow-on projects.

Take, for example, the propulsive unit. The same propulsive unit that boosts a heavy nose cone-warhead to 25,000 ft/sec, could boost a somewhat lighter body to the escape velocity of 35,000 ft/sec or to an orbital path around the earth. Using the same number of stages, the ratio of thrust to weight would be greater by using a lighter payload, and higher accelerations and velocities could be reached before burnout. Or with our present state-of-knowledge, it would be relatively easy to add another stage. We have already done that successfully on our re-entry test vehicle, the X-17. The same guidance system that enables the warhead of a ballistic missile to reach its target within a permissible accuracy would also be sufficiently accurate to hit a target much smaller than the moon. Or, if we are talking about circular orbits around the earth, errors in guidance could be easily observed over a period of time and corrected, and the satellite kept on an accurate orbit. And, of course, these same propulsive and guidance components could also be used for surface-to-surface transport vehicles of various sorts to experimentally carry mail or strategic military materiel to critical sites. The same applies to structural advances of the ICBM that have brought us to new heights in the ratio of total weight to structural weight. I would be willing to venture a guess that ninety percent of the unmanned follow-on projects that one could visualize for the future can be undertaken with propulsive guidance, and structural techniques, presently under development in the Air Force ballistic missile program.

It is reasonable to expect that it will not be too difficult to extend these present developments to surface-to-surface transport of personnel by rocket propulsion, or space travel of personnel at some time in the future. however, before man can be committed to space vehicles, a tremendous amount of human factors research will be necessary. … Granted this research, there are other problems as well. A specific example of the kind of advanced development probably necessary for manned space flight to distant planets, is sustained thrust through space. This will permit us to reach higher velocities and cut down the flight time which would otherwise be impractically long for a human passenger even to the closest planets. Such long sustained thrust, at a small enough magnitude level to be tolerable to a man, requires a type of propulsion technique that is not well suited to take-off thrust and general ICBM requirements. The successful achievements of the required propulsion system is clearly indicated by today’s science, but it has to be developed as a program beyond the current ICBM program.

Space technology, probably for some decades, will not revolve primarily around apparatus for controlled movement of vehicles from one point to another in empty space. Perhaps not only initially but for all time, space technology will include as its most characteristic problem the need for going from the surface of one terrestrial body to another with successful passage through the atmosphere of each. The first big problems, then, are how to bring a substantial mass up to empty space with velocity sufficient to continue inter-body space travel, with adequate precision in the velocity vector control, and how to bring it back through an atmosphere without disintegration. In each of these respects, if one for the moment by-passes human cargo ambitions, the ICBM is attaining the necessary capability and, even for manned flight, the ICBM flight test program will provide experimental data of direct interest.

Granted then that the ICBM program is a major, pioneering, and foundation step for space technology, what appears to be a logical future program? The answer is not easy. It is very difficult to make a firm prognosis on military need during a twenty-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 employment of aircraft in future wars. Consequently, my prognoses will 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 the firm needs and those now considered visionary.

First, we should consider those changes in the operational and technical characteristics of our long-range ballistic missiles to make them superior, reliable weapons. Almost any military planner would agree that if we can increase the range, increase the payload, reduce the gross weight, increase the accuracy, reduce the cost, or simplify the operational procedures, we will have made a worthwhile contribution. Now, in order to achieve any or all of these objectives, it will be necessary to advance the state of the propulsion art, the structures art, or the guidance art, or perhaps all three. When these advances are made, they will be applicable also to the more visionary projects. The basic science underlying these engineering arts has been well surveyed in the past two years. It tells us that considerable advance is possible on all fronts.

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 ensure 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 technology advances required in support of military objectives can, in large part, directly support these more speculative space ventures. …

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 the unmanned, artificial earth satellite 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 a 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.

Vehicles with additional complications could be made have the ability to return intact from space. However, without fundamental extension the environment during space flight would not be suitable for a human passenger. Therefore, manned space flight cannot be attempted, with such apparatus, but many of the associated physiological questions can be answered by experiments with animals. We may, in fact, be able to fill nearly all the gaps in our knowledge which are now holding back the design of manned spacecraft.

Given vehicles with these capabilities, still another avenue for a scientific achievement is immediately opened—for with additional rocket thrust a lunar research vehicle is highly possible. In view of the small additional cost of such an experiment, it seems certain that in the not too distant future it will be tried.

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 space flight. Many fascinating new horizons are sure to open within the next decade as a direct result.

Maj. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever at 46 commands ARDC’s Western Development Division and as such rides herd on the Air Force’s ballistic missile effort, including Convair’s Atlas, Martin’s Titan, and Douglas’s Thor. WDD’s effort, in terms of people, facilities, and money, already exceeds that of the Manhattan Project which produced the first atomic bomb. General Schriever made the above remarks at a recent astronautics symposium in San Diego, sponsored by Convair and the AF Office of Scientific Research.