William J. Astore
Review of Paul G. Gillespie and Grant T. Weller,
edd., Harnessing the Heavens: National Defense through Space.
Chicago, IL: Imprint Publications, 2008. Pp. xii, 235. ISBN
by Paul Gillespie and Grant Weller, this volume consists of fourteen
papers presented at the twenty-first Military History Symposium at
the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs in 2006.
The theme of
this symposium was "national defense through space," and the volume
itself is dedicated "To those who defend America through space." It
has a strong military flavor and is all the more valuable for it,
because it reveals aggressively one-sided American attitudes toward
the militarization and weaponization of space.
in the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. military seriously considered
building a base on the moon for nuclear-tipped missiles. In his
contribution, "Beyond the Blue Horizon," William E. Burrows cites
Air Force General Homer A. Boushey's remark in January 1958 that
"the moon provides a retaliation base of unequaled advantage. If we
had a base on the moon, the Soviets must launch an overwhelming
nuclear attack toward the moon from Russia two to two-and-one-half
days prior to attacking the continental U.S.—and such launchings
could not escape detection—or Russia could attack the continental
U.S. first, only inevitably to receive, from the moon—some 48 hours
later—sure and massive destruction" (27). Boushey's vision of the
moon as the ultimate U.S. nuclear missile site to safeguard and even
to effectuate the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD), is
only an extreme manifestation of the Air Force's official policy aim
to "dominate" the realm of space, "the ultimate high ground." The
belief that the United States had to arm the moon first, before the
Soviets seized the lunar high ground, was driven "by the same
combination of inadequate intelligence, paranoia, hubris, and
consequent political over-reaction that got this country into the
current quagmire in Iraq" (33), Burrows concludes.
have been more bellicose than most, but consider this official
proclamation--presented as an incontestable truism--by General
Lance Lord, Commander of Air Force Space Command, in 2006: "Space
Superiority is the future of warfare. We cannot win a war without
controlling the high ground, and the high ground is space." (15)
One might add a coda to Lord's remark, to the effect that one may
also lose a war while controlling, and even dominating, the
"high ground" of space.
Space is most
assuredly of vital importance to the United States. As the
contributors to this volume note, the United States relies on space
for reconnaissance, surveillance, communication, intelligence,
targeting, weather analysis, and force application more than any
other nation. U.S. exploitation of space facilitates its military
goal of "global reach, global power." In military jargon, U.S.
assets in space are essential force multipliers. But is space truly
"the ultimate high ground"? The implied analogies and metaphors
mislead: space is neither a ridge line to be seized and held, nor an
"ocean" to be patrolled by starships. The ancient Greeks wisely
thought of space as a unique realm, altogether different from the
As a realm,
space is implacably hostile to humans, making the cost of sending
and maintaining humans there enormous, and ultimate returns on
investment doubtful at best. As Alex Roland notes in a provocative
paper that concludes this volume, efforts to create and station
"space warriors" in earth orbit would be analogous to producing a
new breed of ICBM silo-sitters, the difference being that such
personnel "will cost ten times as much and … be sitting ducks [for
enemy attack] instead of secure moles" (221). The most sensible and
cost-effective way to safeguard critical space assets is not by
militarizing and weaponizing space, Roland argues, but by seeking
political solutions with rivals like Russia and China.
polar opposite view is Everett C. Dolman, identified in this volume
as "Air University's first space theorist."
For him, the United States must be prepared, physically and
doctrinally, "to project violence from and into space." Command of
space means building weapons suited for space and its active
exploitation, a position he supports by citing Alfred Thayer Mahan's
theories on control of the seas. He even argues that other nations'
fear "of a space-dominant American military will subside over time."
A hegemonic United States would be a pacific United States, Dolman
suggests, leading to a world "less threatened by the specter of a
future American empire" (124). One wonders whether Russia or China
would be so sanguine as to cede complete space supremacy to an
American hegemonic empire. But Dolman is unworried; instead, he
recommends seizing the "high ground" of low Earth orbit while it is
still (mostly) uncontested.
aggressive moves by the United States to dominate space will likely
generate countermoves by rivals and lead to an arms race in space.
In his insightful Harmon Memorial Lecture that opens this volume,
Roger Launius identifies a growing bellicosity in recent U.S. space
Since 1995, he notes, the United States "has been blocking a
movement at the United Nations for an official prohibition of
weapons in space despite its widespread support in other quarters"
(15). Effective exploitation of space during the Cold War, Launius
notes, "rested on a doctrine of sanctuary, a disallowance of weapons
in space, and the right of all nations to use it [space] without
interference. From Eisenhower to President Jimmy Carter, this was an
inviolate approach" (19). But a more aggressive stance came with
Ronald Reagan and the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") in
the early 1980s, in the context of renewed Cold War competition.
with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. military continued
to insist on options to "weaponize" space. The reasons are not
explicitly explored in this volume but can be read between the
lines. One is interservice, and even intraservice, rivalry in the
context of Dwight D. Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex. The
Air Force has fought a long battle with the U.S. Navy and Army for
control of space, a battle the self-styled "Aerospace Force" has
It involved the hyping of the space mission as uniquely efficacious
for global power projection.
Even as this
battle was being fought, another was in progress, and is arguably
still being contested, within the Air Force itself, as shown in
David Spires's contribution. Space visionaries within the Air Force
always played second fiddle, initially to Strategic Air Command
(SAC) bomber pilots, and later to Air Combat Command (ACC) fighter
pilots. To compensate, Air Force space specialists came to see
themselves as a new cadre of Billy Mitchell's, a visionary yet
misunderstood minority at the mercy of a hidebound old-guard.
Intra-service competition amplified by feelings of persecution bred
hyper-aggressiveness and a concomitant tendency to over-sell an
idea, in this case, the need to dominate and even to weaponize space
for vital national interests.
military's need "to harness the heavens" is surely also a byproduct
of a cultural fascination with technology and its putative virtues,
such as greater precision and improved control, that fostered a
god-like vision of the world, evident in Defense Department (DOD)
efforts to gain "total information awareness" for commanders and,
with deceptive clarity, in recent Hollywood movies like Eagle Eye
and Body of Lies.
A more critical discussion of America's love affair with technology
and space, including its military's almost psychosexual desire
always to be on top--"dominating" the high ground--would have
enhanced this volume.
papers address important aspects of space history. Mark Erickson
stresses the critical importance of the top secret National
Reconnaissance Office (NRO), a quasi "third space agency" too often
neglected compared to NASA and DOD efforts. Similarly, Rick
Sturdevant highlights the many military functions performed by
decidedly unflashy communication satellites.
Smith recalls that the early Soviet space program had nuclear
deterrence as its primary goal. Lacking long-range bombers and bases
from which to strike at the United States, the Soviets pursued
ICBMs, which almost coincidentally could also launch satellites into
space. Even Nikita Khrushchev was taken aback at the initial impact
of Sputnik I in 1957, although he speedily exploited the
resulting crisis of confidence in the West, touting subsequent
Soviet space feats in an ongoing propaganda war with the United
examining Soviet space power is Asif Siddiqi, who notes that the
Soviet Air Force lost its battle for control of the space program to
the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces. He concludes that today
"Russia's military space program is regrouping, modernizing, and
even expanding" (149), which may spur U.S. military efforts to
maintain superiority. Turning to China, Dean Cheng examines its "two
bombs, one satellite" agenda: to possess nuclear and thermonuclear
weapons as well as an ICBM/space lift capacity. Interestingly,
Chinese military publications are now parroting U.S. Air Force
doctrine: one, published in 2004, states that "space dominance and
information dominance are high-tech war's foundation for victory,
and are how we can obtain battlefield dominance. But information
dominance cannot be separated from space dominance. We can say that
seizing space dominance is the root for winning the
informationalized war" (159).
essays, Dwayne Day and Roy Houchin examine early Air Force space
efforts, including the failure of the X-20A "Dyna-Soar" space plane,
conceived as an orbital bomber. The Air Force, Day concludes, "never
achieved its goal of owning its own manned spacecraft" (91), a
failure in part attributable to its ambivalence about manned space
flight in its overall mission, particularly during the SAC-dominated
1950s and 1960s.
"Coping with Celebrity: Women as Astronauts and Heroes," Amy Foster
writes perceptively about the burdens and expectations shouldered by
America's first female astronauts: Anna Fisher, Shannon Lucid, Judy
Resnik, Sally Ride, Rhea Seddon, and Kathy Sullivan. These women,
Foster notes, wanted to be treated like their male counterparts and
judged simply on their own merits, on whether they too had "the
right stuff." Avoiding openly feminist agendas, they nevertheless
used their positions and fame to advance the cause of equal
opportunity for women. Even while portraying themselves as
"ordinary" astronauts, they became heroic role models to women
across the country--and especially to girls aiming to follow their
launch trajectory toward the heavens.
papers collected in this volume provide ample stimulus for thought
about the past, present, and future of U.S. endeavors in space,
especially those directed along military lines. It is a
truism that U.S. efforts to secure and exercise "global reach,
global power" ultimately depend upon space power. Both today and in
the future, that means those on the receiving end of American power
will naturally see U.S. space dominance as less than benign--indeed,
as something to be challenged and overthrown.
judging by the recent accidental collision of U.S. and Soviet
satellites in space, and the cloud of dangerous debris it produced,
a war in
space would be the worst possible scenario for U.S. national
security. Since the military currently gains most from space-based
assets, so it has most to lose from their disruption. Here again, we
see the danger of thinking of space in terrestrial terms, as "the
ultimate high ground." If space becomes yet another battlefield in
which nations play "king of the hill," there will be no winners--and
the United States will likely be the biggest loser.
College of Technology
 The Air Force Academy has been holding
military history symposia since 1967. Starting with the
symposium on the Vietnam War in 1990, Imprint Publications has
published the proceedings of these meetings <link>.
Previous proceedings, published under the auspices of the Office
of Air Force History, are available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office <link>.
 We still await a Jomini, a Clausewitz, or a
Douhet of military space theory. The best repository for current
Air Force thinking on space is the Air & Space Power Journal
its summer 2004 and 2006 issues are specifically devoted to
 The keynote address at these symposia is known
as "The Harmon Memorial Lecture" (the Harmon is also given in
years which lack symposia). The first thirty Harmon lectures are
available in The Harmon Memorial Lectures in Military
History, 1959-1987, ed. Harry R. Borowski (Washington, D.C.:
Office of Air Force History, 1988). All extant Harmon lectures
are also available on-line <link>.
 Within the Air Force, the idea of an
"aerospace" force dates back to 1958, if not earlier.
 In the mid-1980s, I served in the Air Force
Space Command, witnessing this attitude at first-hand. I also
served at USAFA for six years and worked on three Military
History symposia (1990, 1998, 2002).
 Dir. D.J. Caruso (DreamWorks Pictures 2008),
dir. Ridley Scott (Warner Bros. 2008), respectively.
 See, for example, Robert A. Divine, The
Sputnik Challenge: Eisenhower's Response to the Soviet Satellite
(NY: Oxford U Pr, 1993).
 The satellites collided on 10 February 2009,
producing at least six hundred pieces of space shrapnel: Giles
Whittell, "Cloud of Debris Girdling the Earth Could Threaten
Hubble Telescope," [London] TimesOnline (13 Feb 2009) <link>;
also Wikipedia, s.v. "2009 Satellite Collision" <link>.