The astronauts of Apollo 8 orbited around the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968.
As we again consider returning to space in a serious way, including to support a space force to conduct military operations, it's worth remembering what was accomplished back then — in such a short time.
We had been energized when we were caught flatfooted by the Soviet Union's launching of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, on Oct. 4, 1957 — though we had been considering orbiting satellites for some time.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower had been concerned about avoiding another Pearl Harbor, especially in view of Soviet developments of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
The U.S. Air Force was given a high priority to match and excel the Soviet ICBM efforts.
The Air Force and U.S. Navy deployed ICBMs and Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) in record time, in less than five years from a standing start. The current Pentagon bureaucracy could not even come close to matching that record today.
President Eisenhower also chartered activities that eventually became the highly classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to develop and use satellites to gather intelligence and monitor Soviet developments.
The existence of the NRO effort was officially declassified by executive order in late 1992.
He also launched the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Oct. 1, 1958 to pursue activities that became known as civilian space programs, encouraging peaceful space applications.
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy told a joint session of Congress that we would send Americans to the Moon by the end of the decade.
The rest is history. Then there was Neil Armstrong’s famous July 29, 1969 statement as he descended from the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander to take his first step on the Moon, "That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Buzz Aldrin was the second Apollo 11 astronaut to walk on the Moon, and he is still with us, advocating that we return to the Moon, this time to stay at a base that will support missions to deeper space — explicitly including to Mars.
Vice President Mike Pence, as chairman of the Space Council, is considering next steps in such a mission, as well as how to implement President Trump’s directive to establish a sixth military service for space — a space force separate from the other five services, dedicated to assuring America leads in military space activities.
We are playing "catch-up" in this matter because Russia and China are reportedly ahead of us in applying existing technology to benefit their plans to achieve this same objective.
We moved rapidly before—indeed no one yet has matched the achievements of the Apollo program — well ahead of President Kennedy’s target schedule.
As we contemplate the future during this holiday season, we should remember the words of the Apollo 8 Crew as they witnessed the earth rise on Christmas Eve 50 years ago:
A Christmas Eve Prayer From Lunar Orbit Dec. 24, 1968
As it began its last lunar orbit, Astronaut William Anders said, "We are now approaching the lunar sunrise and for all people back on earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send to you." The television camera aboard the spacecraft panned the lunar surface as Anders and his fellow astronauts recited in a medley the first eight verses of Genesis.
William Anders: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters and God said, let there be light. And there was light. And God saw the light and it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness."
James Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters. And let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called that firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."
Frank Borman: "And God said let the waters under the heavens be gathered together in one place. And let the dry land appear. And it was so. And God called the dry land earth. And the gathering together of the waters He called the seas. And God saw that it was good. And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good earth."
Their message is still pertinent today — lest we forget.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary and Science Advisor to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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