Embracing the All-American Automobile

Henry Ford with his Model T.

Henry Ford with his Model T.

No doubt, the railroads of the nineteenth century enabled Americans to move about with a speed and ease never possible before. Even so, they did not provide the freedom to which Americans have long believed they have a special right. That came with the automobile. It freed those in the beginning of the twentieth century from the tyranny of schedules, from the strictures of where the track went, from the necessity of dealing with outside transportation providers, and from the ever so subtle and demeaning task of relating to other travelers in a very public and at times cramped space.

There is something liberating about being able to depart your home in a private vehicle at a time of your choosing and to travel privately point to point in comfort without any significant assistance from an outside entity to a destination of your choosing. That freedom lay at the heart of the attraction of the automobile in America.

With the development of the first practical internal combustion engines in the latter nineteenth century, it did not take a genius to see that the time of personal transportation vehicles had arrived. In 1902 Russell Olds—not Henry Ford—created the first mass assembly line to manufacture automobiles, and was selling 2,500 per year. By 1908, however, Ford had designed his Model T, nicknamed the Flivver, and the age of the automobile had arrived. With a pricetag of only $360 by 1916, made possible by Ford’s creation of the most efficient assembly line ever devised, the Model T was within the price range of many American families and it brought a revolution in transportation. By 1928 Ford had sold 15 million automobiles and the age of personal mechanical transport had arrived. First one car, and then two, became core purchases of every family.

Certainly, no people in the world adopted the automobile as thoroughly and enthusiastically as Americans. While early purchasers were not unlike purchasers of new technological products today—they were attracted by the novelty and the adventure—a truly fundamental revolution in transportation came when such individuals as Henry Ford made it possible for ordinary citizens to own automobiles. But a question must be asked about why Americans love this technology so much. Three essential reasons seem to emerge from any investigation of this question.

First, Americans have embraced technology as no other nation in human history. We seem to love anything that is mechanical and seems to offer promise for making our lives different. And this has made us distinct from other peoples of the world. Many farmers in France, for instance, have still not given up their horse-drawn farming implements, finding them efficient, inexpensive, and totally satisfactory. I cannot imagine a farmer in the United States—aside from the Amish and those working on living history farms—using horses in their daily work. We are a nation in love with technology of all types, including that which might bring our destruction.

Second, Americans are enamored with the new. We believe that we live in a new land, and we identify ourselves as a new people. For such to have any chance of being true, we must also embrace new things. This relates tangibly to the concept of progress—an intrinsically American ideal that envisions a better future. We all know the phrase, “every day, in every way, things are getting better and better.” In many instances these beliefs have been utopian in outlook. Many Americans have seen our role, captured in essence in our frontiering experience, as a re-enactment and democratic renewal of the original “social contract,” together with the creation of personal virtue and collective good. This progress ultimately redeems the nation. We tend to view new technology in the same way, and it has been played out in our acceptance of new ideas and mechanical objects. Whether it actually holds such a promise is an open question, but it has been a part of our American psyche for centuries.

1933 Auburn speedster.

1933 Auburn speedster.

Third, the promise of the personal automobile seduced Americans as no earlier form of mechanical transportation. It allowed motorists to choose their travel times and routes according to personal convenience. While railroads rigidly adhered to schedules, to which all must submit, automobiles freed Americans to travel when and where they wished. It represented democratic promise writ large.

Nothing demonstrates these three themes in an embracing of the automobile more effectively than John Steinbeck’s novel of the plight of Depression-era “Okies,” The Grapes of Wrath. It tells the epic story of the Joad family’s migration by automobile from the Oklahoma dust bowl along U.S. Highway 66 to the promised land of California. In stark and moving detail Steinbeck depicts the lives of ordinary people striving to preserve their humanity in the face of social and economic desperation.

When the Joads lose their tenant farm in Oklahoma, they join thousands of others, traveling the narrow concrete highways toward California and the dream of a piece of land for their own. Each night on the road, they and their fellow migrants recreate society: leaders are chosen; unspoken codes of privacy and generosity evolve; and lust, violence, and murderous rage erupt. It is a powerful portrait of the bitter conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of our fierce reaction to injustice, and of quiet, stoical strength. And in The Grapes of Wrath the automobile, and all that it means to Americans, comes to the fore.

In essence, the automobile created a much more mobile society than ever possible before. With the automobile came the new tradition of the “Sunday drive,” with city folks going out to the country. It also enabled rural Americans to come into urban areas for shopping and entertainment. Cars broke down the distinctions between urban and rural America. It also broke down the stability of family life. It was far easier for individual family members to go their own way. And it contributed to a break down in traditional morality. Children could escape parental supervision, as cars became a sort of “bedroom on wheels.”

In 1929 sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd published a study called Middletown, based on field research done in Muncie, Indiana, in 1924-1925. The Lynds showed how, under the influence of industrialization, traditional values and customs were changing, including peoples’ attitudes toward the automobile and the vehicle’s use in a fundamental reordering of society. They found that at all income levels; the automobile had come to seem a necessity, rather than an economic luxury. People were willing to sacrifice food, clothing, and their savings in order to keep the family car.

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser.

1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser.

It also altered in a fundamental way the relationship between the federal government and big business. American business, led by icons such as Henry Ford, regained the status of folk hero they had enjoyed in the days before the Progressivism of the early twentieth century. Many Americans felt they also had the opportunity to participate in prosperity and they began to equate prosperity and progress in part because of the opportunity to own an automobile.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Homesteading Space”

Homesteading SpaceHomesteading Space: The Skylab Story. By David Hitt, Owen Garriott, Joseph P. Kerwin, with the diary of Alan L. Bean. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-080-3224-34-6. 548 pages. $29.95.

Accounts by astronauts are sometimes entertaining, sometimes insightful and reflective, sometimes revealing, and sometimes inspiring. A very few accomplish all of those goals. Perhaps the gold standard for this is Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins’s Carrying the Fire. While Homesteading Space is not the same thoughtful, perceptive account as Carrying the Fire, but it is a worthy recollection of an important but largely forgotten program.

It tells a significant part of the story of the Skylab orbital workshop, the first American space station launched in 1973 and occupied through the middle part of 1974 by three crews of astronauts. Owen Garriott, Joseph P. Kerwin, and Alan L. Bean were all astronauts that flew aboard Skylab and with the help of journalist David Hitt Homesteading Space does a credible job of telling their story. A 100-ton orbital workshop launched into orbit with the last use of the giant Saturn V launch vehicle in May 1973. Almost immediately, technical problems developed due to vibrations during lift‑off and the first crew to fly, astronauts Pete Conrad, Paul J. Weitz, and Homesteading Space co-author Joseph P. Kerwin, had to resolve them and make Skylab operational. That first group of astronauts returned to Earth on June 22, 1973, and two other Skylab crews followed, one each with co-authors Garriott and Bean.

All three crews occupied the Skylab workshop for a total of 171 days and 13 hours. It was the site of nearly 300 scientific and technical experiments. In Skylab, both the total hours in space and the total hours spent in performance of EVA under microgravity conditions exceeded the combined totals of all of the world’s previous space flights up to that time.

Skylab was the first real test of long-duration spaceflight undertaken by the United States. Homesteading Space is a useful personal recollection of three astronauts who flew on Skylab. It is a welcome account of a lesser known program.

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JFK and the Limits of Presidential Leadership in Space

This proposed Ares I launcher with the Orion spacecraft atop is intended to enable, when paired with the larger Ares V heavy lift launcher, astronauts to return to the Moon in the second decade of the 21st century.

This proposed Ares I launcher with the Orion spacecraft atop is intended to enable, when paired with a larger Ares V heavy lifter, astronauts to return to the Moon in the 21st century.y, I have been reconsidering the place of Apollo in our nation’s recent history. I have often heard from space advocates something like: “If we just had a president with the vision and foresight of John F. Kennedy to announce a bold space initiative, and to support that initiative, all would be well with NASA.” The assumption is that JFK’s Apollo decision in 1961 was the normative process in policy formulation and could and should be replicated by succeeding presidents.

This is a perennial topic so I thought it appropriate to raise in once again. In reviewing the Kennedy decision to go to the Moon, announced on May 25, 1961, in a speech to a joint session of Congress, it soon becomes clear that the Apollo program was overwhelmingly successful in accomplishing the immediate political goals for which it had been created but in doing little else. Kennedy had been dealing with a cold war crisis in 1961 brought on by several separate factors—the Soviet orbiting of Yuri Gagarin and the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion only two of them—that Apollo was designed to combat.

In large measure because of its very appropriate response to cold war problems, Apollo captured the American imagination and was met with consistent if not always enthusiastic political support. Like many political decisions, at least in the U.S. experience, the decision to carry out Project Apollo was an effort to deal with an unsatisfactory situation (world perception of Soviet leadership in space and technology). As such, Apollo was a remedial action ministering to a variety of political and emotional needs floating in the ether of world opinion.

In the end a unique confluence of political necessity, scientific and technological ability, economic prosperity, and public mood made possible the lunar landing program. What perhaps should be suggested is that a complex web or system of ties among various people, institutions, and interests allowed the Apollo decision.

An artist's conception of the proposed Orion spacecraft and Altair lander in lunar orbit.

An artist’s conception of a proposed Orion spacecraft and Altair lander in lunar orbit.

Therefore, JFK’s political decision to go to the Moon in 1961 was an anomaly in science and technology policy making in Washington.  Something most space exploration enthusiasts did not understand , however, was that the Moon landings had not been conducted under normal political circumstances, and that the exceptional circumstances surrounding Apollo would not necessarily be repeated.

In some respects, Apollo reflected the peak of what some have called the “imperial presidency.” This is the term often given to the aggrandizement of presidential power that came during the administrations of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon, and was reborn in the George W. Bush era. It also prompted a number of commentators to criticize the ease with which chief executives overwhelmed other centers of power in the United States. By the time of the Watergate affair, the expansion and abuse of presidential power relative to the Congress and courts had created a full-blown governmental crisis. Historians such as Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. decried the creation of the “imperial presidency” and warned that deference to the president had upset the traditional system of checks and balances.

Spaceflight and the Myth of Presidential Leadership (University of Illinois Press, 1997), that I co-edited with Howard E. McCurdy, contains essays on presidential leadership in space that demark the contours of presidential power and its erosion as the “imperial presidency” shrank after Vietnam and Watergate. JFK seized the unique situation in early 1961 to announce the Apollo decision. Perhaps the 1989 bold Space Exploration Initiative of President George H.W. Bush to go back to the Moon and on to Mars represented the trough of the “imperial presidency,” when that proposal was rejected by political leaders and the American public. We don’t yet know the fate of the “Vision for Space Exploration” announced by President George W. Bush in January 2004, but it appears that the Moon landing portion of it may well be modified or dropped in the coming years.

Accordingly, does this mean that those interested in a return to the Moon or human flights to Mars should look to other means for generating public interest and support? The answer is, not entirely. Presidential leadership remains critical to any major public undertaking, but much more than that is needed. Very little can be accomplished in the public sector without at least the acquiescence of the White House, especially since the president is so effective in shaping policy agendas. So clearly that person must believe that whatever is proposed is a positive objective.

I once heard a senior staffer on Capitol Hill explain that the White House always shapes the national agenda, perhaps most effectively in the budget process, since any public undertaking requires funding. Congress may tinker around the edges, individual members may alter certain parts of the budget to reflect their priorities, outside organizations may convince policy makers to take away from one program or give to another; but except in rare situations in the end what results is a budget within a few percentage points of what the president originally proposed. Absent some major crisis, recognized as such by leaders of all political persuasions, this process will be the norm. As a result, advocates of an aggressive public effort in space must have presidential support for their initiatives.

Clearly, a return to the Moon might be a comparatively straightforward task at this stage in the space age. We have already done it with the Apollo program, and we know how to go about doing it again. Such a program would require a national commitment to return to the Moon with humans, of course, but with the state of technology it might be possible to accomplish the task in only a few years with an increase in the NASA budget of only a few billion. There would also have to be a sustainment of that political decision over a period of many years in the face of changing priorities and unforeseen difficulties.

Perhaps the core reason we have not returned to the Moon since Apollo is depicted in this image from Apollo 17: we failed to find anything of a compelling nature that drew us to return.

Perhaps the core reason we have not returned to the Moon is depicted in this image from Apollo 17; as this vast expanse of rock-strewn nothingness attests we failed to find anything of a compelling nature that drew us to return.

Concerning this possibility, however, one must appreciate the historical issues at play with the JFK decision to move forward with Apollo. And using Apollo as a model—addressed as it was to a very specific political crisis relating to U.S./Soviet competition—my question for those seeking a major commitment to undertake an aggressive, time-consuming, expansive, and costly program to mount a human expedition to the Moon in the 21st century is quite simple: Why? The answer to that question will go far toward shaping the public debate and a national commitment to any future aggressive space exploration effort to go back to the Moon. What do you think. Why should we go back to the Moon?

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Remembering the First EVAs Fifty Years Ago

Astronaut Edward H. White II, pilot for the Gemini-Titan 4 space flight, floats in zero gravity of space. The extravehicular activity was performed during the third revolution of the Gemini 4 spacecraft. White is attached to the spacecraft by a 25-ft. umbilical line and a 23-ft. tether line, both wrapped in gold tape to form one cord. In his right hand White carries a Hand-Held Self-Maneuvering Unit (HHSMU). The visor of his helmet is gold plated to protect him from the unfiltered rays of the sun.

Astronaut Edward H. White II, pilot for the Gemini-Titan 4 space flight, floats in zero gravity of space. The extravehicular activity was performed during the third revolution of the Gemini 4 spacecraft. White is attached to the spacecraft by a 25-ft. umbilical line and a 23-ft. tether line, both wrapped in gold tape to form one cord. In his right hand White carries a Hand-Held Self-Maneuvering Unit (HHSMU). The visor of his helmet is gold plated to protect him from the unfiltered rays of the sun.

During the heady time of the space race during the 1960s the key element of spacewalking, in NASA parlance Extravehicular Activity or EVA, had to be made real. The first American spacewalk took place on June 3, 1965, during Gemini 4 now just fifty years ago. NASA devised Project Gemini specifically to advance this operation, as well as rendezvous and docking and long duration spaceflight.

Initiated in the fall of 1961 by engineers at Robert Gilruth’s Space Task Group in cooperation with McDonnell Aircraft Corporation technicians (builders of the Mercury spacecraft), Gemini started out as a larger Mercury Mark II capsule but soon became a totally different proposition. It could accommodate two astronauts for extended flights of more than two weeks. It pioneered the use of fuel cells instead of batteries to power the ship, and it incorporated a series of other modifications to hardware. Its designers even considered using a paraglider being developed at Langley Research Center for “dry” landings instead of a “splashdown” in water and recovery by the Navy.

The entire system was to be launched into orbit by the newly developed Titan II launch vehicle, another ballistic missile developed for the Air Force. A central reason for this program was to perfect techniques for rendezvous and docking, so NASA appropriated from the military some Agena rocket upper stages and fitted them with docking adapters.

Problems with the Gemini program abounded from the start. The Titan II had longitudinal oscillations, called the pogo effect because it resembled the behavior of a child on a pogo stick. Overcoming this problem required engineering imagination and long hours of overtime to stabilize fuel flow and maintain vehicle control. The fuel cells leaked and had to be redesigned, and the Agena reconfiguration also suffered costly delays. NASA engineers never did get the paraglider to work properly, and eventually they dropped it from the program in favor of a parachute system like the one used for Mercury. All these difficulties shot an estimated $350 million program to over $1 billion. The overruns were successfully justified by the space agency, however, as necessities to meet the Apollo landing commitment.

By the end of 1963 most of the difficulties with Gemini had been resolved and the program was ready for flight. Following two unoccupied orbital test flights, the first operational mission took place on March 23, 1965. Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom commanded the mission, with John W. Young, a naval aviator chosen as an astronaut in 1962, accompanying him. The next mission, flown in June 1965, stayed aloft for four days, and astronaut Edward H. White II performed the first American extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk.

These three stills are from the external movie camera on the Soviet Voskhod 2, which recorded Aleksei Leonov’s historic spacewalk on March 18, 1965. Leonov’s EVA made him the first human to ever walk in space, giving the Soviet Union yet another space first.

These three stills are from the external movie camera on the Soviet Voskhod 2, which recorded Aleksei Leonov’s historic spacewalk on March 18, 1965. Leonov’s EVA made him the first human to ever walk in space, giving the Soviet Union yet another space first.

This failed to be the first spacewalk, however, because Soviet Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov beat White out at the first spacewalker. During the flight of Voskhod 2 on March 18, 1965, he exited the spacecraft and floated outside the spacecraft, secured to the spacecraft by only a safety line. He pushed away from the vehicle and drifted out to 17.5 feet (5.3 m) before returning to the spacecraft. A tense few moments ensured when Leonov found his spacesuit too rigid to reenter the airlock. He solved the problem by bleeding air out of his suit and reducing its size so that he could fit back through an inflatable airlock. As Leonov wrote about this experience:

During my training for this mission, I did a drawing showing how I imagined myself walking in space high over the planet Earth in the outer cosmos. The dream came true, and space walking became a reality with my EVA on Voskhod 2 in March 1965. During the space walk, I was exposed to the vacuum of space for some 20 minutes, considerably longer than expected, due to problems re-entering the spaceship. The pressure difference between air in my space suit and the vacuum of the cosmos expanded my space suit and made it rigid, and I had to force some of the air out of the suit in order to close the lock’s outer hatch.

Although the Soviets trumped the Americans with the first EVA, the Gemini program soon demonstrated considerable capability. Eight more missions followed through November 1966. Despite problems great and small encountered on virtually all of them, the program achieved its goals. Additionally, as a technological learning program, Gemini had been a major success, with 52 different experiments performed on the 10 missions.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Leveling the Playing Field”

downloadLeveling the Playing Field: How the Law Can Make Sports Better for Fans. By Paul C. Weiler. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Many of the major issues of modern professional sports revolve around issues of the law. Harvard University’s Henry J. Friendly professor of law Paul C. Weiler believes this firmly and Leveling the Playing Field is his attempt to explain this central issue of sports business. Much of this terrain has been pursued in other works, but Weiler’s perspective is interesting.

Weiler takes the reader through the looking glass world of the sports business, exploring the nature of free agency, the various revenue streams of the major sports franchises, the long history of the shakedown for new sports complexes paid for with public money, the problems of steroids and other methods of cheating, and television and other revenues generated through sports activities. It is a familiar story, and Weiler tells it relatively well. His approach is balanced and his tone is evenhanded, even when the subject does not deserve it.

His solution to the problems of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League boil down to one piece of national legislation. “The only way to avoid a regular replay of the experience of the 1990s is to have Congress pass a law that bars redistribution of middle-American taxpayer dollars into the pockets of wealthy Americans like George Steinbrenner.” He adds, “I hope my readers now understand that as fans we would be better off if our favorite sports had the combination of a salary tax and a stadium cap” (p. 345).

That might help, although I am opposed to any restraint on the ability of players—the labor force—to receive whatever income they are able to negotiate for their services since they are fundamentally the stars of the show. But I only wish it were that simple! I very much question all the problems of the sports business could be cured in this way, and I must add that the devil would be in the details of any such congressional action and its ramifications might be strikingly different from what was intended. Witness the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act and how it simply changed the rules of the game; it did not appreciably alter the game itself. Additionally, the ability to pass legislation of this type in early twenty-first century America appears virtually nil.

While I found this book quite interesting and worthy of consideration, I was annoyed by the relative lack of academic rigor in the discussion. At no point, for instance, did Weiler offer detailed thoughts on the nature of the legislation that he believes is necessary. Additionally, the book is completely without scholarly apparatus, not even a selected bibliography, and I find this unacceptable in a serious work.

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A Short History of Air Rescue in World War II

The idea of establishing a specialized and elite force for the rescue of downed aircrews grew out of three interlocked circumstances just before the Second World War: (1) a deep‑seated European belief in the sanctity of life, (2) the high expense of training replacement aircrews for those lost in combat, and (3) the greater effectiveness of aircrews who believed that there was a reasonable expectation of surviving a bailout or crashlanding.

Heinkel-59 Floatplane.

Heinkel-59 Floatplane.

These factors led the German Luftwaffe in 1935 to establish a sea‑ based unit, eventually being named the Seenotdienst (air‑sea rescue service) under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Konrad Glotz at Kiel for the sole purpose of recovering aircrews in the ocean. By 1939 the Luftwaffe had expanded this rescue force by adding Heinkel‑59 float aircraft specifically modified for this mission.

The Germans also pioneered the development of equipment and techniques during the years before 1940s. Its Heinkels were equipped with medical supplies, respirators, electrically heated sleeping bags, a floor hatch with a collapsible ladder, and a hoist to lifted injured aircrew members. The exteriors were painted white and sported a red cross to distinguish them from combat aircraft. They also introduced unmanned large buoy‑type floats, outfitting them with all manner of equipment that could be used by downed flyers of all nations.

Each Luftwaffe aircraft, in addition, contained inflatable dinghies, survival equipment, and green dye which could be released in the ocean to aid in spotting survivors. By the time of the Battle of Britain in 1940, there­fore, the Germans had in place for the English Channel and the North Atlantic a rescue system in which a downed aircrew member had a reasonable chance of survival.

The British efforts early in the war were haphazard. The  (RAF) relied on its coastal defense force for the rescue of crewmen, although by March 1940 a communication system was established to give priority to distress signals. With the heavy attrition in men and materiel in July 1940 wrought by the Battle of Britain, Air Vice Marshal Keith R. Park, commanding No. 11 Group of Fighter Command, acquired 12 Lysander patrol aircraft and the services of seacraft to search and recover downed airmen.

RAF Air Sea Rescue Launch.

RAF Air Sea Rescue Launch.

The next month the British formalized this arrangement by forming a Directorate of Air‑Sea Rescue at the Air Ministry to coordinate rescue efforts. In August 1941, executive control of all rescue operations were vested in the commander of Coastal Command. From this beginning, rescue operations became increasingly efficient throughout the remainder of World War II, at least for airmen lost in areas other than those held by the enemy.

Like its allies, the United States entered the war without any organized air‑sea rescue capability. As casualties from the bombing campaign became to mount, however, General H.H. Arnold, the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces made rescue a priority. In September 1942, the British and American forces agreed to cooperate and coordinate rescue operations. Although the British dominated the rescue program in the European Theater of Operations (ETO), the United States assisted and made special efforts to properly equip aircrews and train them for survival in a crash or bailout. It also employed seaplanes for search and rescue over water, although its short 800‑mile radius of action limited its viability.

51st Rescue Squadron SB-17s at Narsarsuaq Air Base, Greenland, in the 1950s.

51st Rescue Squadron SB-17s at Narsarsuaq Air Base, Greenland, in the 1950s.

Later, other aircraft, such as modified bombers were used for these operations as well. For instance, the United States modified some of its B‑17s to carry mahogany‑laminated, plywood boats under its fuselage which could be dropped to airman in the water. The boat was stocked with food, water, clothing, other supplies, and two small motors to allow the airmen to travel home. This B‑17 was christened the SB‑17, the first American aircraft modified and used specifically for rescue. Its first operational mission took place in April 1945, just as the war in Europe was about to end.

The success of air‑sea rescue operations in the ETO was sufficient to elicit excited response from most airmen. A total of 1,972 American airmen were saved in the water around Britain through March 1945. The Eighth Air Force’s rescue efforts saw only a 28 percent save rate in 1942, compared to a 43 percent rate by April 1943. Indeed, by the end of the war allied combat aircrews from all theaters could reasonably expect to be picked up if shot down.

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Space as Battlefield or Sanctuary?

An artist's concept of a Space Laser Satellite Defense System.

An artist’s concept of a Space Laser Satellite Defense System.

For more than fifty years since the first space satellites were orbited the world engaged in activity in outer space for military scientific, and commercial purposes, but without placing weapons there or engaging in serious efforts to target objects in space. Working effectively during the Cold War, since then the space arena has witnessed the entry of many more actors and a much broader array of vested interests than during the U.S./Soviet rivalry.

In this increasingly crowded environment with so many actors the United States remains the dominant player and wants to ensure that it does so indefinitely, hence the desire to protect national assets. As one policy analyst put it: “Given the U.S. reliance on its space systems for national security, would the United States (as some have argued) face a future ‘space Pearl Harbor’ if it did not first acquire the means to protect its space systems from deliberate harm?” The answer to ensuring U.S. hegemony in space rests in no small part with the protection of the nation’s satellites and other space-based capabilities while denying that same capability to potential adversaries. There may be a range ways in which that might be accomplished, but one of the most popular is the placement of systems in space to protect against attack. Depending on how one interprets these assets, it may represent the weoponization of space, thereby overturning a fifty-something year old decision not to do so.

Debate over this issue has been marked by two extreme positions, neither of which are representative of the majority of those debating the subject. The first is the “sanctuary” concept, which asserts that space “should not be used for military purposes,” as analyst Malcolm Mowthorp has written:

The intrinsic value space provides for national security is that satellites can be used to examine within the boundaries of states, since there is no prohibited over flight for satellites as there is for aircraft. This enables arms limitation treaties to be verified by satellites in space serving as a national technical means of treaty verification. Early warning satellites serve to strengthen strategic stability since they provide surveillance of missile launches which increases the survivability of retaliatory strategic forces. The sanctuary school sees the importance with which space systems provides these functions that space must be kept free from weapons, and antisatellite weapons must be prohibited, since they would threaten the space systems providing these capabilities.

Sanctuary advocates have argued that space weaponization by the United States would ensure an arms race in space in which all would ultimately lose. They have opposed it on moral grounds, but more importantly because of longstanding predispositions in favor of arms control, conflict resolution, and global collective stability. Any move beyond limited national security operations such as satellite reconnaissance, arms control verification, early warning, and communications represents for them a “slippery slope” to an arms race in space.

This sanctuary doctrine draws sometimes snide rejoinders that the military has relied on space assets from the beginning of the space age and to suggest otherwise is naïve. As international law professor Robert F. Turner opined about those opposing weaponization of space:

As a policy matter, particularly in light of the tremendous dependence of U.S. military forces today on space-based sys­tems, anyone arguing that the United States should agree to a new legal regime that would leave our defensive assets at the mercy of hostile actions by any of a number of known or un­known potential adversaries—while giving us little of obvious value in return—must bear the burden of explaining why this is in America’s interest. Unfortunately, a campaign is now un­derway to pressure our government to acquiesce in just such a regime—driven at least in part by countries and groups that perceive “unchecked American military power” as the great­est threat to world peace in the foreseeable future.

Few anti-weaponizers, however, assert an absolute sanctuary in space; virtually everyone recognizes the legitimacy of military assets in space for non-lethal purposes. Turner’s critique, therefore, presents a caricature of those opposed to the placement of weapons in space.

Indeed, the misrepresentation of each side of the debate by the other may be one of the most interesting and unfortunate attributes of this policy arena, and another place for historians to trace the evolution of the policy.

The most radical conception on the other side, “star wars,” essentially seeks to ensure American hegemonic status in space. It is a retreading of the “high ground” argument but one carried to its logical conclusion through weaponizing space and using the region as an American “lake” while denying others its use for military purposes. The Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization in 2001 concluded: “We know that every medium—air, land and sea—has seen conflict. Reality indicates that space will be no different. Given this virtual certainty, the United States must develop the means both to deter and to defend against hostile acts in and from space.”

Advocates of space weaponization, sometimes derogatorily referred to as “Star Warriors,” note that new capabilities, broader uses, and greater efficiencies have made the U.S. military far more dependent on space systems than even since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, to the extent that their loss might mean the difference between victory and defeat in a major war. USAF Gen. Lance Lord spoke for many when he wrote: “Space Superiority is the future of warfare. We cannot win a war without controlling the high ground, and the high ground is space.”

The 2006 U.S. space policy provided evidence of a shift in this policy arena. It drew sharp criticism from a wide range of observers for opening the Pandora’s box of weapons in space and the belligerence of their use against American rivals. Former Vice President Al Gore even weighed in on it, declaring on October 19, 2006, that this new space policy

has the potential, down the road, to create the [same] kind of fuzzy thinking and chaos in our efforts to exploit the space resource as the fuzzy thinking and chaos the Iraq policy has created in Iraq. It is a very serious mistake, in my opinion. We in the United States of America may claim that we alone can determine who goes into space and who doesn’t, what it’s used for and what it’s not used for, and we may claim it effectively as our own dominion to the exclusion, when we wish to exclude others, of all others. That’s hubristic.

In reality, there is little new in the 2006 U.S. space policy, just as their was in the Obama space policy released in 2010 which walked back some of the more aggressive rhetoric.

Despite recent developments, most of the space weaponization debate has confined itself to the middle part of the policy spectrum, but it has been both strident and sometimes uncharitable. Of course, it represents a fascinating subject for future study in the history of space policy, one that could occupy several researchers for a considerable period just sorting out the various perspectives. The simplistic “either/or” discussion of popular media fails to unpack the nuances of the debate and tends to obscure the truly important differences.

So what are the priorities for national security space and issues for the development of space policy? Although nearly twenty years old now, a Rand study of 1998 laid out benchmarks that still make fundamental sense:

  • Preserving freedom of, access to, and use of space.
  • Maintaining the U.S. economic, political, military, and technological position.
  • Deterring/defeating threats to U.S. interests.
  • Preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction to space.
  • Enhancing global partnerships with other space-faring nations.

Few would disagree either with those priorities or with the need to develop a policy that ensures them. Few would also disagree with the fact that this is where the current state of affairs rests, and that begs the question, how do we best continue this situation? This becomes a core agenda for any discussion of the subject.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “To Save a City”

To Save a CityTo Save a City: The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949. By Roger G. Miller. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000. Pp. x, 253. Illustrations, maps, notes index. ISBN: 0890969671. $34.95.)

I first read this book when it appeared in 2000, in large part because I had researched the Berlin Airlift and had written on it myself, but I have been re-investigating the subject in anticipation of undertaking some additional research into the topic. This book remains a solid contribution to the subject.

The airlift arose in the aftermath of World War II when the victorious Allies divided Germany and Berlin into four zones, one each for France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. As Soviet-American relations deteriorated during 1946 and 1947, the jointly occupied Berlin, located deep inside the Soviet zone, began to be the focus of confrontation between the two ideologies. When the Soviets blockaded the land routes to Berlin from the West the United States, Great Britain, and France responded with a massive airlift that both relieved a surrounded and starving city and avoided direct conflict with the Red Army. It represented a truly decisive use of what I have called in print call “constructive air power.”

Roger G. Miller’s To Save a City seeks to tell the story of this airlift, both its geopolitical and operational elements, in a spare volume that offers a basic history of the subject. Miller drew on official Air Force files to reconstruct the story of this important Cold War confrontation.

Miller quickly dispenses with the political issues and moves on to the hasty organization of the operation to resupply the city by a small number of antiquated cargo airplanes. This soon evolved into an intricate bridge of modern transports that flowed in and out of Berlin through narrow air corridors on a precise schedule regardless of weather or other conditions. In the slang of the present, this 24/7/365 operation delivered everything from food and medicine to coal and equipment to a besieged Berlin.

It allowed airlift forces to hone to fine edge their doctrine and operational procedures. It also brought to the attention of postwar leaders the most significant thinker the possibilities of airlift for military purposes, William H. Tunner, who commanded the eration and eventually went on to lead the Military Air Transport Service, now Air Mobility Command.

I would contend that the Berlin Airlift served to codify the flexibility of airlift as an instrument of national will. If one believes that the military exists as tools to help further the national defense and diplomatic objectives of the nation they serve then the more flexible the tool the more useful it becomes. Fighters and bombers are precise tools useful in only a limited number of circumstances, essentially those involving combat. Military airlift can be used in every conceivable scenario across the spectrum of conflict. Unlike virtually all other major types of Air Force aircraft, air transport has an important mission in both the peacetime and combat environments. In peace or war, military airlift sustains the American presence abroad, projecting military resources in a crisis or assisting in humanitarian missions. A unique national resource, the Berlin Airlift demonstrated its significance.

American allies around the world regarded the airlift as a triumph of will, and it solidified the western position in the early Cold War era. The size and extent of the airlift, the requirement for close coordination, and the resourcefulness of allied leadership also impressed the Soviet Union. The airlift affected Air Force doctrine as well; demonstrating that virtually any amount of cargo could be moved anywhere in the world with little concern for geography or weather. It provided valuable experience in operational techniques, air traffic control, and in aircraft maintenance and reconditioning. Miller’s To Save a City is a basic resource for all who seek to understand this development.

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A Short History of USAF’s Strategic Air Command in the Cold War

wallpaper_SAC_logoDuring the latter 1940s, although some demobilization took place after World War II, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union precipitated the creation of a strategic force that could strike an enemy with nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. The U.S. Army Air Forces established the Strategic Air Command (SAC) on March 21, 1946, for the specific purpose of executing “long-range offensive operations in any part of the world, either independently or in co-operation with land and naval forces.” Under its first commander, Gen. George C. Kenney, SAC began the effort of creating a strategic strike force.

Armed mostly with the B-29—and a few nuclear delivery variants, the B-50—any capability to strike an enemy worldwide proved at best a hollow threat. It would take many years to develop the global reach necessary to accomplish SAC’s mission of attacking any potential enemy either before that enemy had a chance to inflict significant damage on the United States through its own attack or in retaliation for a nuclear attack. Not until the mid-1950s did SAC truly possess such a capability.

Although American leaders always denied the possibility of making a first strike against a foreign nation with nuclear weapons, SAC’s war plans always offered that scenario. And on more than one occasion Air Force leaders advocated using it. For example, Gen. Nathan Twining advocated deploying SAC to use nuclear weapons to relieve the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 before the French withdrew from Indochina. He argued that three tactical nuclear bombs would have allowed the French to win the battle and thereby remain in control in Southeast Asia. The use of nuclear weapons in Indochina, Twining also suggested, would have done more than just allow the French to hang on. It would have demonstrated the resolve of the United States to employ these weapons in virtually any combat scenario. Such a demonstration, he believed, would ensure that the Soviet Union would treat the possibility of U.S. interventions in other theaters more seriously.

In the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, Gen. Curtis E. LeMay advocated air strikes against the Soviet missiles in Cuba, but President John F. Kennedy refrained believing that such an action would result in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. LeMay believed that would have been better than the alternative, which he told the president was “the greatest defeat in our history” as he pounded the table where they met. Political leaders, fortunately, did not accept these arguments. SAC’s ability to decimate the world remained a potent fear in the public consciousness; perhaps most famously stated when film director Stanley Kubrick satirized its first strike mentality in “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” released in 1964.

Even so, the very public idea of massive retaliation for any attack on the United States carried out by SAC was an important part of the nation’s overall Cold War strategy. This doctrine of deterrence guided significant expenditures for weapons systems within the Department of Defense (DoD), with SAC always at the head of the line for new aircraft, missiles, and support elements. Ensuring the health of the so-called nuclear triad of U.S. continental-based long-range strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) operated by SAC, as well as the Navy’s sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) carried on submarines, dominated thinking about Cold War nuclear strategy. All of these could strike the Soviet Union—or anywhere else on the globe—and therefore ensure an enemy’s nuclear annihilation. Sometimes referred to as mutual assured destruction, this doctrine was known by the most appropriate acronym ever used by the military—MAD.

Ensuring SAC’s global strike capability received a boost with the Eisenhower administration’s “New Look” at national defense. As a means of reducing the cost of the military, Eisenhower chose to rely less on traditional combat arms and to invest in air power, especially SAC, and to rely more on the nation’s nuclear arsenal with the threat of “massive retaliation” should anyone attack the United States or its allies. This led to the development of an exceptionally capable strike force. The first truly capable intercontinental bomber, the B-36, came into SAC inventory in the latter 1940s, but it was the most famous and exceptional strategic bomber ever, the B-52 “Superfortress,” that made SAC such a powerful force.

A B-52 strategic bomber is being aerial refueled a KC-135. This refueling capability gave SAC global reach.

A B-52 strategic bomber is being aerial refueled a KC-135. This refueling capability gave SAC global reach.

In all, 744 B-52s of seven different models have served with SAC over the years, with the last model, the B-52H, being delivered between May 1961 and October 1962. Some of the B-52Hs remain in the Air Force inventory to the present. Based in northern tier bases in the United States, the crews for these bombers stood continuous alert from the point they became operational in 1954 and served through the 1980s. These alerts required precise requirements for ever-faster takeoffs dependent on the type of scenario, and by 1961 they could launch within 15-minutes of receiving an order.  To keep the B-52s airborne for long periods, refueling aircraft performed perfected the art of aerial refueling. Later, SAC received the B-1 bomber in the 1970s and the B-2 stealth bomber in the 1980s.

A U.S. Air Force LGM-25C Titan II ICBM undergoes a test launch from an underground silo. Unlike Titan I missiles, which had to be raised to the surface before launch, the Titan II’s liquid rocket engines were ignited while it was still in the silo. Therefore the silo had to be constructed with flame and exhaust ducts as shown in this photograph.

A U.S. Air Force LGM-25C Titan II ICBM undergoes a test launch from an underground silo. Unlike Titan I missiles, which had to be raised to the surface before launch, the Titan II’s liquid rocket engines were ignited while it was still in the silo. Therefore the silo had to be constructed with flame and exhaust ducts as shown in this photograph.

Land-based ICBMs also entered operational service with SAC beginning the 1960s, particularly the Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman. Hardened missile launch sites, eventually placed underground throughout the central and northern U.S., provided launch capability within minutes of receiving an attack order. The Atlas ICBM, first test fired on June 11, 1955, entered service in 1959 and served on alert until 1964. The Titan entered operational use in 1963 and enjoyed a long service life until finally retired by SAC in 1986.

The Minuteman, however, enjoyed the most extended use. As a solid-fuel rocket it proved much easier to maintain over long periods, entering service in 1962 in small numbers but 500 of a more recent variant are projected to remain operational through 2012. The most recent ICBM to be developed, the solid-fuel Peacekeeper, entered service 1986 and 50 remained in use until September 19, 2005. In the middle of the cold war during the latter 1960s and 1970s, SAC had 1,054 ICBMs in its operational inventory with more than 2,000 nuclear warheads.

More than any other individual, Gen. Curtis E. LeMay is identified with transforming SAC into an effective nuclear strike force. Commanding SAC between 1948 and 1957, LeMay may well have been as coarse and irascible an officer as the Air Force possessed. He argued that the nation’s first line of defense—perhaps its only line of defense—was the nuclear deterrent that SAC provided. SAC’s bombers, and later its missile forces, had to be prepared to carry out effectively the nuclear strike mission at any time for the deterrent to have any viability. With a broad mandate to resolve SAC inadequacies in the latter 1940s, LeMay embarked on an aggressive program of intense training, alerts, and realistic exercises. Headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, LeMay’s SAC also refined the procedures for strategic bombardment, both with ICBMs and strategic bombers, and made them increasingly effective.

The preparedness of SAC to execute its mission in the LeMay years was legendary and the organization achieved standards of excellence still idealized within the Air Force, as it maintained a state of extreme readiness throughout the Cold War era between the 1940s and 1980s. To extend SAC’s global reach, LeMay secured the first jet bombers and tankers for aerial refueling, at the same time increasing the SAC infrastructure to support the impressive strategic bombardment capability he built.

Possession of a strong nuclear deterrent certainly served the purpose with the Soviet Union for which it had been created. Fortunately, nuclear war never did take place. In an effort to create a more “flexible response” during the 1960s SAC accepted a reemphasis of more conventional warfare. Its B-52 force served in Southeast Asia and engaged in such bombing missions as Operation Rolling Thunder conducted against targets in North Vietnam in 1965 and the Linebacker 1 and 2 aerial interdiction campaigns executed against North Vietnam in 1972. In the early 1980s 98 SAC B-52s received modifications to carry air launched cruise missiles (AGM-86), enhancing their flexibility in conducting a range of strategic bombardment operations, both nuclear and conventional.

With the end of the Cold War on December 25, 1991—when the Hammer and Sickle Flag of the Soviet Union was lowered for the last time above the Kremlin and replaced with the flag of the Russian Federation—SAC’s traditional role in the national military establishment ended. Accordingly, on June 1, 1992, the Air Force inactivated the Strategic Air Command, assigning its aircraft to the Air Combat Command, and a year later it assigned the ICBM force to Air Force Space Command. Also on June 1, 1992, the Department of Defense activated the United States Strategic Command, containing vestiges of the old SAC, under the Joint Chiefs of Staff rather than the Air Force to coordinate planning and targeting of strategic forces into the future.

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NASA’s Overestimates of Soviet Lunar Capabilities During the Moon Race

NASA Administrator James E. Webb, who served between 1968 and 1968.

NASA Administrator James E. Webb, who served between 1961 and 1968.

Many times NASA officials used the national security intelligence on the Soviet Union to sustain their case for an aggressive effort to complete Apollo by the end of the 1960s. In a few instances these public statements aroused within the administration charges of NASA complicity in overestimating Soviet capabilities as a means of ensuring the agency’s budget.

The most serious incident took place in the fall of 1968 when NASA Administrator James E. Webb was battling within the Executive Branch over budgetary issues and losing. The NASA budget had started a downward trend from a peak in 1965 of $5.2 billion and would not bottom out until 1974. The NASA budget for fiscal year (FY) 1968 had been $4.6 billion, but was reduced to $3.99 billion in FY 1969. Out-year projections looked even more bleak and the NASA administrator went on the offensive.

Although previously cooperative with the White House in these matters, Webb had been more or less ramrodded by the president on September 16th into announcing his retirement from NASA effective October 7, 1968. Threafter he had nothing to lose in publicly complaining about the lack of American resolve to continue aggressive space flight funding.

Webb complained about the reductions in NASA’s funding, and argued that it may have already allowed the Soviet Union to retake the lead in the space race. He tagged his concern to the circumlunar flight of Zond 5, which began on September 15, 1968, and emphasized a downward trend for the American effort in space while the Soviets were pressing forward with major initiatives. He envisioned serious consequences for NASA’s efforts arising from the Johnson administration’s decision to cut the space agency’s budget. As Webb wrote to the President:

  1. After deducting the 40,000 construction workers who were released as our facilities were completed, the work force now engaged in our program is about two-thirds the level reached in the peak year 1966. This means that a number of key design and engineering teams have already been broken up.
  2. Our rate of successful space launchings has fallen off sharply since the peak year 1966: we launched a total of 30 in 1966; 26 in 1967; and 11 to date in 1968. For 1969 the projection is higher because of a concentration of launches in support of the Apollo program.
  3. As things now stand we are terminating production of both the Saturn IB and Saturn V boosters as soon as the Apollo requirements are clearly met.
  4. Similarly, we are marking time in the development of a nuclear rocket engine pending your 1970 budget decisions.
  5. We have had to limit our planetary programs. We will fly two probes to Mars in 1969, are beginning work on two Mars orbiters for 1971, and will urge that the 1970 budget permit us to develop two Mars landers for 1973.

Webb contrasted these reductions, and in general limping along to the finish line in the Moon race, to what he thought of as a vigorous Soviet program. He noted:

  1. The Soviets show every indication of continuing to build upon their capabilities to demonstrate their power in astronautics and to master space. In the process, they are propelling the total base of their technological competence forward.
  2. The Soviet space program continued to expand in size and scope as indicated by the steady increase in successful space launches.
  3. We have the best of reasons to believe that the Soviets are nearing the end of a long developmental period in aerospace technology which will give them the ability to advance significantly ahead of us in space and challenge us in important areas of aeronautics.

Webb punctuated his attack by concluding that the Soviet’s seem bent on demonstrating a “capability that could change the basic structure and balance of power in the world.” Zond 5 demonstrated that the U.S. was behind the Soviets again and that they might possibly beat the U.S. to a lunar landing.

Donald Hornig, the President’s Science Advisor, became so upset with Webb’s public statements that he fired off an angry letter to LBJ about the “NASA Distortion of Where the U.S. Stands in Space.” He claimed that Webb exaggerated the importance of Zond 5 and the overall state of the Soviet space effort while minimizing the accomplishments and capabilities of the U.S. program. He claimed that these “unconscionable statements” were “undoubtedly motivated by their [NASA’s] budgetary programs.” Hornig countered Webb’s “doomsday” pronouncements with his own more rosy analysis:

In the manned lunar landing program, for example, we have successfully flown the Saturn V launch vehicle twice, the first flight in November 1967, while the equivalent Soviet vehicle has yet to fly. We expect the first Soviet launch in the next few months. Out best estimate of their capability indicates that before a manned lunar landing can be attempted it will be necessary to rendezvous and dock the payloads from two vehicles of the type they have not yet launched.

I conclude from this and other supporting evidence that we are at least one year ahead of the Soviets in this area—and not behind.

Hornig told the President that he would discuss this difference of opinion with Webb and try to get him to retract his statements. He closed the matter by informing LBJ that he would have the National Aeronautics and Space Council, a coordination organization assigned to the White House, investigate the matter and prepare an analysis.

Donald Hornig

Donald Hornig

Hornig also asked if the president would like to release that analysis as an official statement. In the lower left corner of the memo is a set of decision options and by the option, “Drop the matter,” Johnson placed a check. Hornig didn’t, and the Space Council sent to the President a report on the relative position of the Soviet and American space programs on September 30.

Immediately thereafter, LBJ dictated a note back to Hornig that took him to task for the attack on Webb. The president said, “It is hard for me to believe that Jim Webb would make ‘unconscionable statements’ or be ‘motivated’ entirely by budgetary problems.” He commented that Webb had reason to be concerned about the NASA budget, but that he fully understood the national commitment to completing Apollo on schedule. “I wanted him to succeed,” LBJ wrote, “and it was only with great reluctance that for the past two years I have taken action to meet the overall fiscal requirements laid down by a determined group in the Congress by accepting cuts made in the House Appropriations Committee.”

Then Johnson offered one of the most damning comments I have seen in writing among Washington politicos. He told Hornig that if he persisted in attacking Webb and NASA that his function could be open to criticism from other quarters, especially if there was some great Soviet triumph as Webb predicted might take place. “This would inevitably bring into question the judgment of your group in a way that might impair its usefulness.”

At the same time that LBJ was piqued at Hornig for attacking Webb, Webb’s statements clearly irritated the President as well. He went back to Webb and asked him about his public disagreement over the administration’s budget. He asked him for the basis of his charges and clearly challenged his loyalty to the Johnson administration.

James Webb and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

James Webb and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

On October 1st, only a week before his scheduled departure from NASA, and again on October 5, Webb responded to Johnson with detailed memoranda outlining his position on NASA, budgets, and the Soviet space effort. He again expressed concern about the downward trend in spending for space exploration in the U.S. and the perceived upward trend in the Soviet Union.

Webb closed by quoting his comments to the American Astronautical Society in July 1968, indicating that these trends “will have many serious effects on the U.S. position in aeronautics and space.” Webb did not budge from that belief to the end of his federal career, but ultimately he was proven wrong about the Soviets’ capability in space.

Of course, and hindsight it 20/20 here, the Soviet Union was nowhere near achieving a lunar landing in 1968. The Americans won that race to the Moon easily. Webb did not know that in the latter 1960s, however.

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