SMDC History: A new direction for space research
July 16, 2014
Until 1977, the fiscal year began in July rather than October. This week's history piece will mark a turning point in Army space history -- the 54th anniversary of the transfer of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency's space-related missions to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's George C. Marshall Space Flight Center on Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
In a morning ceremony on July 1, 1960, in front of the ABMA headquarters, Maj. Gen. August Schomburg, commanding general of the Army Ordnance and Missile Command, symbolically presented Dr. Wernher von Braun with a model of the Saturn rocket.
The 55th Army Band, stationed at Redstone Arsenal, participated in the proceedings.
The exchange represented the transfer of 1,840 acres, $100 million worth of buildings and equipment, including 10 specialized laboratories, and 4,670 Department of the Army civil servants on Redstone Arsenal and Cape Canaveral, Fla.
In his address to the crowd, Schomburg noted that the two organizations would always have much in common and encouraged the two to work together, "as closely as … common missions and interests would permit."
He concluded wishing the group, "the same full measure of success which crowned the work your team as members of the United States Army."
Former Army employee, von Braun acknowledged the outstanding backing and support provided by the Army and added that, "we are swept by a feeling of gratitude and respect for the magnificent leadership that the United States Army has displayed for years in the conquest of outer space."
The ABMA was activated in February 1956. Its mission was to develop the Jupiter Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile System and complete the weaponization of the Redstone Ballistic Missile System.
NASA was created Oct. 1, 1958. One year later, in October, President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to transfer a portion of ABMA's personnel, facilities and missions to NASA. In support of the space policy to civilianize space research, in January 1959, Eisenhower directed that the ABMA's Development Operations Division and its space-related missions should also transfer to NASA.
The Marshall Space Flight Center was subsequently established in March 1960 with von Braun and a small team transferred to oversee the transition. Von Braun was the first director of the Marshall Center.