Space Control and National Security

April 1, 1958

Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General White began his military career with graduation from West Point in 1920. Since then he has served in numerous military and military and military-diplomatic posts, including time in Peiping as a Chinese language students in 1927 and posts in South American and Europe. In World War II, he was Assistant Chief of Staff, Operations, Third Air Force, and later Seventh Air Force commander in the Pacific. After the war, he was Pacific Air Command chief and Director of Plans, Hq. USAF. He was Vice Chief of Staff prior to his present post.

The United States must win and maintain the capability to control space in order to assure the progress and preeminence of the free nations. If liberty and freedom are to remain in the Earth, the United States and its allies must be in a position to control space. We cannot permit the dominance of space by those who have repeatedly stated they intend to crush the Free World.

You will note that I stated the United States must win and maintain the capability to control space. I did not say that we should control space. There is an important distinction here. We want all nations to join with us in such measure, as are necessary to ensure that outer space shall never be used for any but peaceful purposes. But until effective measures to this end are assured, our possession of such a capability will guarantee the free nations liberty. It does not connote denial of the benefits of space to others.

In the past, when control of the seas was exercised b peaceful nations, people everywhere profited. Likewise, as long as the United States maintains the capability to control space, the entire world will reap the benefits that accrue.

The capability to control space ensures its advantageous use for either military or nonmilitary purposes, but our ultimate goals are nonmilitary. There are many possibilities. More accurate weather forecasts are foremost among these. Thousands of lives and many dollars could be saved by precision forecasts of hurricanes, typhoons, and other severe weather. Increased knowledge of cosmic rays, that aurora borealis, and the troposphere might give us answers to the many problems that plague us concerning radio communications. As we go farther out into space, it is highly probable that additions to our knowledge will bring forth valuable and as yet undreamed-of applications.

There has been some discussion concerning whether or not the military should handle all United States activities in space. Under our form of government, I do not feel that this is really a problem. Over-all civilian control will be exercised, and rightly so. However, space research and development efforts and space operations must give due consideration to the military aspects.

This is necessary because until other ironclad methods are devised, only through our military capability to control space will we be able to se space for peaceful purposes. I visualize the control of space as the late twentieth century parallel to the age-old need to control the seas and the mid-twentieth century requirement to control the air.

Space operations must include both manned and unmanned systems, whether used for peaceful means or as military weapons. These systems will perform in compatible and complementary roles. The decision as to which type of vehicle will be used for a designated mission will depend not only on technical performance, but on whether man’s judgment is required.

Perhaps the first and most obvious military usage of outer space is for reconnaissance and mapping of the surface of the Earth. Eyes in outer space will keep us informed of all military movements on the Earth’s surface. Mapping accuracy will be increased greatly. Military targets throughout the world will be plotted with greater precision.

Another result of the United States’ eyes in outer space will be immediate warning of hostile action on the surface of the Earth. This will in turn permit much faster reaction of the Earth. This will in turn permit much faster reaction on our part. When I speak of reaction, I want to stress that I am speaking of a reaction, which is not only quick, but strong and selective. I believe that the United States’ capability to control space could ultimately approach absolute deterrence.

To control space we must not only be able to go through it with vehicles that travel from point to point, but we must be able to stay in space with human beings who can carry out jobs efficiently.

I look upon the Air Force’s interest and ventures into space as being as logical and natural as when men of old in sailing ships first ventured forth from the inland seas.

As these ancient seafarers’ knowledge of the inland seas increased and they learned more about the elements, they built larger ships and ventured farther away from land. This achievement required men who had learned the many things there were to know about the inland seas. Similarly, ventures into outer space require men who know the air. There are no barriers between air and space. Air and space are an indivisible field of operations.

The Air Force progress toward space has been evolutionary – the natural development and extension of speed, altitude, and sustained flight. These qualities have been our stock in trade throughout the fifty years of Air Force history. We have strived continually to fly faster, to fly higher, and to remain airborne longer.

When Maj. R. W. Shroeder, back in 1920, set an altitude record of 33,113 feet, he gave impetus to knowledge that enabled Captain Kincheloe to take the X-2 to 126,200 feet – thirty-six yeas later.

When Gen. Billy Mitchell set a speed record of 222.96 miles per hour for one kilometer in 1922, he traveled approximately five times as fast as Orville Wright traveled on his initial flight – but only one-eighth as fast as Colonel Everest flew the X-2 in 1956.

The evolutionary process, which has brought the air Force to its present high state of development, is not going to change in direction because there are additional challenges in space. Aeronautics and astronautics are closely allied.

Actually, the air Force has been penetrating the fringes of space for several years with manned aircraft. Men like Yeager, Everest, Apt, and Kincheloe have been our pioneers.

The X-15 rocket research plane, which is now under development as a joint effort on the part of the Air force, the Navy, and the national Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, will be our first true spacecraft. It is expected to travel at speeds of a mile a second, and altitudes or more than a hundred miles above the Earth. It is only a step away from manned orbital flight. Much of the research, which the Air Force has been conducting on the ground, is also designed to place man in space. The Department of Space Medicine at the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph AFB, Tex., was established almost ten years ago. Physiological experimentation is also being conducted at the Aeromedical laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Numerous colleges and universities are conducting research along this line under Air Force contract. Volunteers like Colonel Stapp, Major Simons, and Airman Farrell have opened doors to much information.

The experience of the United States air Force in working with science and industry for the development of faster, higher flying aircraft with longer ranges has given us confidence in the future of our equipment in space. We depend upon the skills, the talents, and the ingenuity of our science and industry to provide us with the equipment we need. Our past experience in cooperating and working with science and industry shows it to be a natural arrangement.

So far we have discussed the importance of the United States capability to control space and the fact that I feel space is but an extension of the air Force’s natural element. Now I would like to discuss how we should best direct our efforts to get into space and what we must do to stay there.

I feel that a dangerous trap lies ahead of us if we partition our space efforts. We must have centralized direction of our national efforts to attain the best results from available resources, talent, and experience. Excessive duplication of effort would not only be a most severe economic drain on our country, but would waste energy and time.

The establishment of the Advanced research Project Agency in the Department of Defense is a large stride in the direction of adequate military preparation in the space age. I am sure that this agency will make great contributions in the vital matters of establishing worthwhile projects, setting priorities, coordination efforts, and guiding the many participants in these undertakings. I am also sure that the Air Force’s accomplishments and potential in the space age will not be overlooked. Once we attain the space capability, a lack of centralized authority would certainly hamper our peaceful use of space and could be disastrous in time of war. Failure to properly coordinate peaceful space activities under common direction could cause confusion, might result in wrong decision, and would be a safety hazard. In war, when time is of the essence and quick reaction so necessary, centralized military authority will surely be mandatory.

Once we attain the space capability, a lack of centralized authority would certainly hamper our peaceful use of space and could be disastrous in time of war. Failure to properly coordinate peaceful space activities under common direction could cause confusion, might result in wrong decisions, and would be a safety hazard. In war, when time is of the essence and quick reaction so necessary, centralized military authority will surely be mandatory.

A strong consideration as far as military space operations are concerned will always be the necessity for the fail-safe concept. A substantial proportion of our forces must maintain the capability to make last-second decisions. This is one reason I m convinced that man in space will be a most important factor.

Ninety-nine percent of the Earth’s atmosphere lies within twenty miles’ altitude above the Earth. To assure effective operations, there can be no division in responsibility between the control of the air up to twenty miles above the Earth’s surface and the space above it. Air Force facilities, control of operations in the Earth’s atmosphere. This capability can easily be extended beyond the Earth’s atmosphere as our operations in space develop.

Before I close, I want to stress that I cannot conceive that mechanical gadgets will control space. Man will develop the equipment, send it off, and bring it back. On many occasions, and probably more than we envision now, man will fly the equipment. The point here is that man’s judgment and skills will always be needed.


Mr. Haggerty: I believe, General White, you said we should not partition our space effort. Do you mean it should be the project of a single service

General White: I think it has to be a joint venture of the military services and civilian agencies, as requirements develop. I don’t believe it will be possible to partition this thing. Space is too big to start with, and the cost is too high. The talent required to carry this forward is too thin.

Mr. Herman: If I could just pin it down, do you man by control of space, control of access by any nation, anywhere on earth to outer space, and that we could detect and interfere with their access

General White: I am getting a little out of my field, but one of the ways to control the sea in time of war and stress is the blockade; the exits from nations’ own boundaries into the open seas. I think the same thing conceivable could apply to exiting from the Earth’s natural envelope into space.

Mr. Haseltine: Wouldn’t it be better to control reentry than access

General White: that’s a hooker. I will throw it back to you – you couldn’t have reentry if you kept people from getting out there. – End