By David Pearson, St. Bonaventure University, Class of 2010November 7, 2008
On November 30, 2000, the Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched on its second mission to install parts on the International Space Station. America's space program is now headed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), but it was the United States Army that put America into orbit for the first time.
The Army's involvement in space started after the Soviet Union began producing and researching Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. In response the Army established a research and development program for long range missiles and especially missile defense systems. The Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) was created on December 22, 1955, and research was headed by Doctor Wernher von Braun, a former German rocket scientist deeply involved in the V-2 rocket programs in World War II. The ABMA concentrated its effort on competing with the Soviets to see who would take the tactical foothold in space. After three years of work, the ABMA placed America's first satellite, EXPLORER I, into space aboard a JUPITER Missile.
Although ABMA's development of the JUPITER missile program put American satellite technology into space, the Army eventually lost control of space development. The mission was turned over to the newly created NASA and in part to the United States Air Force. Despite these changes the Army never lost its involvement in space program development.
Today the Army still retains its involvement in space, which is necessary in order to keep the Army rolling with the new advantages that technology offers. With the development of satellite technology, the Army now has advantages in communications capabilities by reducing dependence on land lines as well as increasing tactical control and efficiency of ground units. The Army also has new advantages in reconnaissance because of the detailed imagery it can receive regarding friendly and enemy aircraft, missiles, and ground troops. Space technology also offers the Army advantages in surveillance, attack warning and assessment, and meteorology which are all necessary for properly planning and executing missions.
Because the Army needs someone to defend the highest skies, the mission has fallen to the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC), whose mission is to conduct "space and missile defense operations" and to provide "planning, integration, control and coordination of Army forces and capabilities in support of US Strategic Command missions." One of SMDC's many active units is the 1st Space Battalion, which brings a new age of support directly to Soldiers on the ground through Joint Tactical Ground Stations and Army Space Support Teams. These systems provide Soldiers with better intelligence, defense, and training regarding Space technology and advantages.
The Army set the base for America's involvement in Space. Without the work of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and its devoted scientists, the United States could have fallen far behind in getting into space. Even today the Army remains involved in space programs because of the advantages that they offer, and because they help give Soldiers the edge they need to complete their missions.
Editor's Note: Our guest contributor, David Pearson, was a student volunteer with the Army Heritage and Education Center in the summer of 2008. He is a student at St. Bonaventure University, Class of 2010, and is pursuing a history degree.