Gen. Schriever's visionary space speech turns 50
General Bernard Schriever is remembered as the father of the U.S. Air Force space and missile program. Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado is named after this pioneer who on Feb. 19, 1957 addressed America's need for space during the inaugural Air Force Office of Scientific Research Astronautics Symposium in San Diego. (U.S. Air Force photo)
special Staff Report
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
2/12/2007 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Gen. Bernard Schriever addressed America's need for space in a Feb. 19, 1957, address at the inaugural Air Force Office of Scientific Research Astronautics Symposium in San Diego. Following this address, Defense Secretary Charles Wilson ordered General Schriever, who was then commander of Western Development Division Headquarters, not to use the word "space" in any of his speeches.
And then the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.
That single event in October 1957 changed the American government's view overnight, and General Schriever led the U.S. effort to reach space. Today, we remember him as the father of the U.S. Air Force space and missile program.
Excerpts from General Schriever's visionary speech follow.
"I presume that the reason I have been invited to address you here tonight is because, as commander of the WDD, I am deeply engrossed in man's first concerted attempt to penetrate outer space. ...
"Since 1954, the United States has come a long way in the development of space technology. The WDD 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. ...
"... Major installations at Air Force Centers 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.
"... A tremendous industrial capability is being built up, and production know-how is being established in many new areas. Out of this tremendous effort will come a wealth of design information and hardware that will be useful for other things beyond that for which they were designed. These airframe, propulsion and guidance control subsystems ... will make it possible to achieve other goals with the subsystem than to carry the nose cone-warhead to a predetermined target. A whole gambit of follow-on projects immediately becomes feasible.
"... 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 size of the moon, even at that increased range. 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. ... I would be willing to venture a guess that 90 percent of the unmanned follow-on projects that one could visualize for the future could be undertaken with propulsive guidance and structural techniques, presently under development in the Air Force Ballistic Missile Program.
"... Granted then that the ICBM program is a major, pioneering and foundation step for 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 will go from those which are reasonably firm to those which might be considered visionary. ...
"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. ...
"... In conclusion, we 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 space flight. Many fascinating new horizons are sure to open within the next decade as a direct result."