Silicon Sky: How One Small Start-Up Went over the Top to Beat the Big Boys into Satellite Heaven

By Gary Dorsey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
March 1995
Flounder, Arnold, & Vlad

Sixty years ago Burton Mesa was a quiet, lonely, strangely beautiful plateau at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, a dry, windswept stretch of Santa Barbara County between the famous flower fields of Lompoc and Santa Maria townships. For a long time the mesa served as a place for cattle and sheep to graze over sparse vegetation. The most notable activity occurred at night, when great, quick-moving fogs rolled across the flat land and sponged their way into the hills.

In 1957, as home of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, the mesa became a training field for military exercises, a bed for missile launchers, fuel storage tanks, power houses, blast-proof control blockhouses, radio guidance stations, high bays, 20-ton cranes, liquid oxygen—generating plants, and telemetering stations. As birthplace of the American's first ICBM, the mesa's flat shale landscape was overtaken by 135-foot-tall gantries that looked like oil derricks and rockets capable of hurling nuclear warheads 5,000 miles across the ocean, all standing visible in preparation for war.

In 1961, then known as the home of Vandenberg Air Force Base, more than 18,000 people lived on Burton Mesa, including employees from several of the nation's primary rocket manufacturers, such as Douglas, Martin, and Boeing. They were joined by a stream of technical and support personnel from the navy and air force, and their families. Boy Scout troops sprang up, as well as women's clubs, Little Leagues, schools, and churches, making the base and the little towns of Lompoc and Santa Maria centers of domestic activity, as lively and all-American as any place in the country.

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