May 5

First U. S. Manned Space Flight

Saturday, May 5, 2012 1:00 AM


May 5th, 1961

CDR Alan Shepard Jr. mans first U. S. space flight


Fifty-one years ago, the United States launched its first manned spacecraft, Freedom 7. The flight, which lasted almost fifteen-and-a-half minutes, marked a monumental step towards the U. S. space program’s goal of placing a man on the moon. In this, and many other acheivements made by the United States in space exploration, the Navy played an instrumental role, not only in supplying astronaughts to man spaceflights, but in aiding the launching and rescue of these flights as well. In January 1963, almost two years after Commander Shepard’s flight, Proceedings published an article by Captain Malcolm W. Cagle, about the Navy’s role in space. In his article, excerpted below, Captain Cagle speculated on the what the next ten years of space exploration would bring for the Navy, and described the new duties that would be placed upon the Navy, as well as future concerns for national defense as other nations began to join the space race.

Ten years hence, when the U. S. Naval Institute is a century old, what impact will rapidly accelerating space operations and technology have on the U. S. Navy? What can and should our Navy do in space? What can national space operations do for our Navy? What can Soviet space operations do against it? How can seapower enrich our national space programs?

 . . .

Before beginning, however, let us define that part of space which concerns the U. S. Navy of the 1970’s. The region of space which is of principal interest to the Navy is cislunar space—the region this side of the moon’s orbit. The minimum altitude at which the atmospheric drag on satellites is negligible is 150 to 300 nautical miles above the earth’s surface.

In a satellite orbit of 6.6 earth radii (about 26,000 miles), the period of revolution of the satellite is 24 hours, the same as that of the earth. Thus an equatorial satellite at this altitude appears to hover above a fixed point on the earth.

The inner region of cislunar space between 1.05 and 6.6 earth radii, 200 miles to 26,000 miles above the earth’s surface, is the region wherein communication and weather satellites will operate. It is in this inner region of cislunar space that satellites can most effectively support or affect earthbound or sea based operations.


In 1962 we had a glimpse of what opportunities will be available to the 1973 Navy in the field of space communications. Telstar is but a preview of what is coming. In the 1970 decade, communication satellites will offer the Navy an enormous opportunity to improve existing communication systems which are now overloaded and vulnerable.

. . .

In another decade, furthermore, a variety of sophisticated satellites—meteorological, communications, navigation—will be orbiting, and ships and fleets at sea will need to be able to talk to and through these satellites. It is apparent that more and more naval ships will need the equipment to make use of space communications.

As the nation’s space programs grow and more communication satellites are orbited, there will be a great need for relay and read­out stations on the earth’s surface. Some of these stations can be located on U. S. soil. Others must be located either at sea or overseas. Special ships used for some of these stations could perform, in addition to their communications satellite duties, other more conventional military functions. For example, they might be used as command ships. These readout and relay ships would be mobile, secure, and free of foreign influence and base rights problems.

The Communication Moon Relay System (CMR) has operated between Washington, D.C. and Hawaii since 1956. The moon, a natural satellite, has been used to reflect radio teletype, continuous wave, voice, and facsimile signals. In many instances, the present system has been the only usable system during blackouts caused by solar and ionospheric disturbances.

Moreover, the CMR system has provided an abundance of scientific data on the nature of propagation and reflection of radio energy in the long reaches of space. This information has proved invaluable in establishing the concepts and design of follow-on active communication satellite programs, which, in the 1970 decade, will be in use.

Command and Control

In the command and control field, as the number and capability of communication satellites increases in the 1970-1980 period, a radically new opportunity will be available to the U. S. Navy for the wide dispersion of ships and forces, without sacrificing the advantages of centralized command, will be available to the Navy.

. . .

Imagine, if you will, a potential conflict situation developing on the other side of the world from the United States in the area which includes Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. This remote area is the Achilles heel of U. S. military communications. Fixed shore communications facilities adequate to support even a minor war effort do not exist. Mobile command and communication ships with electronic data processing (EDP) and advanced communications equipment using satellite relay could play a major role, integrating the combatant forces into the national command and control system.


One of the most important areas of space operations affecting the future Navy is meteorology. As long as our Navy operates at sea it will always be helpful—and frequently vital—to be able to forecast sea state, sea temperature gradient, wind direction, cloud cover, the presence of ice or fog, and the existence and movement of hurricanes and typhoons. Weather forecasts in an amphibious landing area, for example, will continue to be of extreme importance to fleet commanders.

. . .

Today, the weather map of a large area is about six hours old before it can be used, because the raw data must be assembled, sorted, analyzed, and finally sent to the user. In the 1970’s, this delay will be reduced almost to zero by using satellites and computers. In addition to the information now obtained, weather satellites will be able to determine cloud heights, obtain knowledge about the formation of thunderstorms, collect information on wind force and sea state, and take and transmit pictures of weather over large areas of the earth.

Our ignorance of tropical weather will be dispelled by meteorological satellites in the 1970’s. This use of weather satellites will be particularly beneficial to the Navy. The tropics (roughly that belt lying between 30 degrees North and 30 degrees South latitude) are the earth’s boilers. The tropics gain more heat from the sun than they lose by radiation, and conversely, the higher latitudes lose more heat to space than they receive from the sun. Enormous quantities of heat flow from the tropics to the higher latitudes. This vast exchange of heat is the energy which drives the earth’s atmosphere.

Thus, to understand the earth’s weather at high latitudes, and to understand the origin and cause of hurricanes and typhoons, an understanding of the meteorology of the tropics is required. Weather changes which take place in the tropics do so subtly and slowly, and the best way of knowing, analyzing, and predicting tropical weather is by pictures of the earth’s surface.

The number of reporting weather stations in the tropics are few. Yet, in this 60-degree belt lies half the earth’s surface, and 80 per cent of it is ocean. In this belt, moreover, lie the majority of the potential trouble spots of future naval interest—the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. . . .

A weather satellite flying around the earth at the equator at an altitude of 2,000 nautical miles would provide effective coverage of the tropical belt. For example, the Seventh Fleet could receive a photograph of the weather every three hours (or every hour if three equally spaced satellites were in orbit) of an area which would include Midway, the Fijis, most of Australia, all of Indonesia, the Philippines, Formosa, Okinawa and much of Southeast Asia, from Chungking on the north to India on the west.

 To take advantage of this sort of capability, the Navy of 1973 will need to have weather satellites and meteorologists trained to make effective use of them.


Space technology will have a major impact on the systems of navigation to be used by the 1973 Navy. Navigating the oceans, using satellite fixes, will make feasible highly precise and secure navigation on both a global and local basis. Already, navigation by the artificial satellite, Transit, has been accomplished with errors of less than one mile. Consider the impact on the Navy if accurate navigation to within 100 to 200 feet were possible! The 1973 sailor would find the problems of threading a channel or a minefield, keeping station in a large formation, or approaching a beachhead a great deal simpler and easier.

. . .

Several kinds of space operations which will have great impact on the Navy of 1973 have already been mentioned—communications, command and control, weather and navigation. The 1963 models of satellites now in orbit—the Tiros, the Transits, the Telstars—are but baby steps into the space age. We are no more advanced in space technology today than naval aviation was advanced in 1915.

Any examination of what the Navy might be doing in anti-satellite operations in the 1970’s must be hypothetical, for avowed American policy is to reserve space for peaceful purposes. The President has often stressed this point. “We hope that space will be used for peaceful purposes,” he said. “That is the policy of the United States Government. But we should be prepared if it does [is] not.” . . .

It has already been shown that some missions can be accomplished best by using space technology and space operations; knowing the weather, navigating more accurately and communicating more reliably are examples. The President has noted that our efforts in the peaceful exploration of space—our booster program, capsule control and rendezvous techniques—also have military usefulness.

. . .


The probability of weapons in space, or of the use of manned satellites as weapons is not great in the 1970 decade. Our present ICBM and Polaris weapons systems are more sensible and effective, and far less costly than weapons in space. Orbital bombing systems seem to be difficult and expensive ways of doing what we can now do more efficiently from the earth’s surface.

. . .

In the active part of an anti-satellite operation, the 1973 Navy might have a key role to play. As we know, three-fourths of the earth’s surface is salt water. To deceive, destroy, or neutralize a hostile space object, we must, in my opinion, take advantage of the oceans. For it is patent that the destruction or neutralization of a space object is far easier if one shoots from the orbital plane of the space object, approximately under the satellite, even in the case of a maneuverable satellite.

The same is true for destroying an enemy ICBM; shooting from the ocean in the approximate orbital plane is the easy, simple way. Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, has said that the destruction of an approaching enemy ICBM does not depend on our missile making physical contact with the enemy missile, but on the nuclear explosion of our warhead, which can have an influence on the order of miles. It does not take much imagination to visualize the 1973 Navy using Polaris-type missiles in any given anti-missile missile role.

Whether or not space becomes a battleground is not known. We hope it does not. We only know that history teaches us that man has fought in every element he can live in. If there is hostility in space, the U. S. Navy will inevitably be involved from the oceans of the earth.

. . .

Another aspect of space technology and space operations most likely to have dramatic impact on the 1973 Navy is that of sea basing—using the oceans for the launching, range support, and recovery of space vehicles.

Already, our national space program is having growing pains, and more trouble in the future is clearly foreseeable. For example, the boosters of the 1970 decade will be several times larger than those we are using in 1963—and there will be many, many more of them. These tremendous boosters will be dangerously noisy for human ears; people will be kept almost four miles away from their exhausts to avoid injury. The larger boosters can also pose explosive and toxic exhaust hazards. And if these boosters use nuclear power, which is technically feasible, there will be radiation, and contamination hazards.

Such problems indicate how our expanding and accelerating space programs using land basing may become prohibitive for reasons of safety and the shortage of real estate. Sea basing of the larger more dangerous rockets may become imperative.

. . ..

It is not an exaggeration to say that unless the Navy vigorously continues to adopt space technology and energetically to adapt itself to space operations, its contribution to national security will decline. Contrariwise, by continuing its exploitation and use of space, the U. S. Navy can increase immeasurably its value and effectiveness for defense in future decades.

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