A Sobering Obligation

April 1, 1962

Space is a new frontier for all the world. We are facing an opening into a realm which has no bounds. Man is on the threshold of an expansion era which dwarfs every previous opening into new territories of his earth and his knowledge. Our minds are so attuned to experience, to the practice of trying to see ahead in terms of what we have observed directly, that it is difficult to project our thoughts to a future in which man is no longer bound to his earthly home.

Man dreamed of flying for centuries, but from Daedalus through da Vinci until the Wright brothers, he lacked one thing—an energy source sufficiently concentrated to be carried aloft to propel him. His first engines were enough to push him around, as long as he was buoyed up by the air. With more powerful engines, he moved into the thinner air above. Rocketry brought engines that enable him to leap above the air and beyond the pull of gravity. He can now be free to travel where he wishes.

President Kennedy, in characteristically direct fashion, has said that space is a new ocean and America must sail on it. Where we go, what we find beyond the blue horizon of the aerospace, is no more clear to us today than was Queen Isabella’s vision in 1492 of what might follow the opening of a path into then-unchartered seas.

The one thing about which we can be sure as the space age unfolds is that we can’t really be sure about anything—except the fact that man will master this new medium, some­way, somehow, sometime—and soon. What he will gain from his space venture is no more predictable than have been the dividends from the steam engine, or the discovery of oil, or learning to fly, or, more recently and still not predictable, the release of nuclear energy.

All of these things changed, or are changing, life on this earth. All were fraught with promise of a better life—and peace to enjoy it. All have contributed to the stimulation and reward of life—and have lost none of their promise. But as much as they might contribute to peace, they have been exploited for war—and they have to be defended.

Space is no different. The benefits of the national program will be felt in many areas of our technical-industrial society, through, for example, what Mr. James E. Webb, Adminis­trator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, calls the “spin off” of tech­nological accomplishment.

The peaceful promise of space operations themselves is great—in communications, mete­orology, navigation, and geodesy. In these areas lie major objectives of our national effort. They are so far-reaching that President Kennedy has offered other nations, including the Soviets, cooperation in space projects.

It will take years to accomplish some of the feats of space work which beckon so clearly, but the precise planning, the goals, and the tremendous resources pledged to the effort are sufficient evidence of our determination that America will have insurance against either scientific obsolescence or military surprise in space.

Man has learned that none of the physical environs of his earth—the land, the sea, the air—are bars to military operation, and that all are subject to exploitation for military as well as other purposes. Again, space is no different. The space will be peaceful and free as long as peace-determined men keep it free. And space calls for defenses against aggression the same as the land, the seas, and the air.

The Air Force has responsibility for defense of the nation against attack through the air. Our medium is now changing from the air to aerospace. Our capability in space must be built to the standard which marks our capability in the air—superiority over any foe.

The sobering obligation of this requirement is equaled only by the immeasurable op­portunity, which offers the Air Force the same stimuli and prospects for the second half of the twentieth century as it had for the first half. The men we need, the training they will get, the returns they will enjoy, and the rewards of their service, will be the same in quality, in challenge, in demand for hard work, and in growth potential.

Space is our new frontier. It is an extension of the wild blue yonder. Our salient into it is just forming. The Air Force must continue to look up and to move upward to the end that freedom is established in the aerospace in order that it may be preserved on earth.