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Richard Easton

An excerpt from the upcoming book, The Rise of Air Force Space Command.

The U.S. had information that the Russians were making significant advances in space technology which further spurred American energy in rocketry in the late 1940’s. Then President Eisenhower, in answering the threats posed by the developing Cold War, allocated resources in the early 1950’s to highly classified satellite development, as well as ICBM and launch vehicle activities. In addition, the American participation in the IGY–significant for its focus on artificial satellites for peaceful means–could be utilized to further national defense goals. But it wasn’t until 1955 that the President and the DoD formally sanctioned a concerted U.S. effort to build and launch the first American satellite.

The Army’s Wehrner Von Braun, once a Nazi Germany citizen, was spearheading the Army’s efforts and appeared to be ready to launch; but Eisenhower was clearly concerned with the volatility of the post-war environment. It could be argued that he was hesitant to give the perception of violating a post-war edict that maintained space for peaceful purposes. With the sensitivities of Von Braun coming from Nazi Germany and the Redstone program unable to adopt the guise of a civil or scientific project, the Navy won the bid with the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) proposal entitled “A Scientific Satellite Program”, dated July 5, 1955, which would become known as the Vanguard program. Vanguard was publicly heralded as a scientific civil research project. Scientific it was; civil it was not. This was a Navy satellite program of record with sweeping military implications, and the NRL’s work since the mid 1940’s postured them well to answer the call.

One of the NRL’s premier scientists was a Vermont native by the name of Roger Easton. Easton co-authored the Navy’s Vanguard proposal with Milt Rosen, and it was the answer to the government’s RFP (see orbital futures) to put the first man-made satellite in orbit. But as fate would have it, they would not be the first to launch a satellite.