Harnessing the Heavens: National Defense through Space

By Caton, Jeffrey L. | Joint Force Quarterly, April 2010 | Go to article overview
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Harnessing the Heavens: National Defense through Space

Caton, Jeffrey L., Joint Force Quarterly

Edited by Paul G. Gillespie and Grant T. Weller

Chicago: Imprint Publications, 2008

235 pp. $29.95

ISBN: 978-1-879176-45-4

This book comes at an interesting time in the history of U.S. space activity. Its publication is within 1 year of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission. Ironically, it is also within 2 years of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) planned date for the termination of space shuttle flights, with no replacement until at least 2015, when the Orion system should be available. This conscious abdication of human spaceflight capability forces the United States to depend on Russian (or Chinese?) rockets to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, a structure built with over $25 billion of U.S. investment.

What are the national defense implications of such actions? To evaluate such situations properly requires both historical knowledge and forward thinking. This book provides both. Organized as 14 essays divided into 4 sections, Harnessing the Heavens offers contributions from Everett Dolman, Roger Launius, Howard McCurdy, and others in the pantheon of space authors with hundreds of years of collective experience analyzing space issues. They share their wealth of experience not only through superb prose, but also with extensive endnotes.


The book's first section, "Space and the Cold War: Prime Motivations for Space," consists of five outstanding essays that provide historical context regarding the early development of U.S. spacepower. The essays analyze issues at the strategic level and consider the influences of all elements of national power. Common themes among the authors include the emergence of the trinity of civil, military, and intelligence communities for space application; the evolution of diverse priorities given to space programs by the Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson Presidential administrations; and the influence of competition with the Soviet Union in space efforts.

The lead article sets the stage with a summary of space development from the German V-2 rocket to the present day, stopping just short of including the 2006 space policy. It explains the important distinction between weaponizing space and militarizing space, and it presents the six major perspectives on the debate regarding the presence of weapons in space. The next four compositions delve into some of the specific national competitions that characterize the space portion of the Cold War. These articles provide fascinating details on such topics as the separate studies for possible moon bases made by the Army and Air Force, the emphasis placed on unmanned reconnaissance satellites over manned spaceflight by Eisenhower, and Kennedy's initial reluctance as a space supporter that changed only with the political realities following Soviet Yuri Gagarin's triumph as the first man in space.

The next section, "Doctrinal Faith: Strategic Dimensions of the War Fighter and Space," builds upon the trifurcated structure of space introduced in the first section with particular focus on U.S. Air Force contributions. The first composition is a concise survey of the manned space program pursued by the Service from 1959 to 1963, highlighting the interactions with NASA's Mercury and Gemini programs as well as the Dyna-Soar spaceplane. The next article steps through several recurring themes in Air Force space history, such as the pursuit of peaceful purposes, need for assured access, challenge of building space-savvy leadership, role of commercial sectors, and debate on establishing a separate Space Corps.

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