The Formation of the Company
The Formation of The Aerospace Corporation
Determined not to lag behind the Soviet Union, the United States embarked on an intensive drive to close a perceived missile gap and establish its dominance in space. To achieve these critical goals, a trustworthy and independent advisor was clearly needed.
Jon S. Bach and Gabriel Spera
Development of intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (IRBMs and ICBMs) began in earnest in the United States after World War II, supported by German scientists who came to work for the U.S. Army through Operation Paperclip. At the same time, the Soviets were working on their own program. As the Cold War intensified, the United States grew increasingly concerned about the prospect of a Soviet attack using nuclear missiles. In response to this threat, Trevor Gardner, assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development (and later member of the Aerospace board of trustees), established the Air Force’s “Strategic Missiles Evaluation Committee” in 1953. John von Neumann from Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies chaired the committee, which took his name.
The committee concluded that the United States had fallen behind the Soviet Union in developing ICBMs, and recommended that the United States do everything necessary to accelerate its own ICBM program, particularly the Atlas missile. It also recommended the appointment of an impartial system architect to coordinate the work of defense contractors. One important result of this finding was the creation in 1954 of the Air Force Western Development Division, under the command of Brig. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever. Its goal was to develop and deploy IRBMs and ICBMs. (Schriever, too, would later join the Aerospace board of trustees.)
Among the members of the von Neumann committee were engineers Simon Ramo and Dean Wooldridge. They had worked together at Hughes Aircraft, but left to form their own company, Ramo-Wooldridge, in 1953. In 1954, Ramo-Wooldridge was awarded a contract to provide general systems engineering and technical direction (GSE/TD) to the Western Development Division, according to the recommendations of the von Neumann committee. It established a separate Guided Missile Division for this purpose. To prevent a conflict of interest, the contract prohibited the production of hardware (so that Ramo-Wooldridge would not be in a position to recommend its own hardware over a competitor’s).
The First Forays into Space
The late 1950s was a dynamic period for Schriever’s organization, which concurrently pursued a number of major initiatives. In the ballistic missile area, there was the Atlas, Thor, Titan I and II, and Minuteman. In the area of space launch, there was the Thor Able, the Thor Agena, the Advanced Thor, the Atlas booster, the Super Titan, and their associated upper stages. There was also the burgeoning manned spaceflight effort as well as the early satellite systems for reconnaissance, communication, early warning, and related activities.
Meanwhile, in preparation for the International Geophysical year (July 1957 through December 1958), the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory was working toward launching a scientific satellite into orbit using a Vanguard missile. Then, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet launch of Sputnik I surprised America—and indeed, the world. The launch of Sputnik II just one month later cemented the Soviet triumph, and brought increased attention to the Vanguard effort. The attempt to launch Vanguard TV3 (Test Vehicle 3) on December 6, 1957, was a failure, and not just a disappointing one—it was highly embarrassing. Unlike previous test launches, this one was televised, so the bad news spread fast.
But Vanguard was not the only U.S. space program under development at the time. Concurrently, Explorer I was being designed and built by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California. (Eberhardt Rechtin, who would become The Aerospace Corporation’s second president in 1977, was spacecraft manager.) On January 31, 1958, it became the first satellite successfully launched by the United States. Less than two months later, on March 17, 1958, Vanguard 1 became the second satellite successfully placed in Earth orbit by the United States (it remains the oldest artificial satellite in orbit).
The Millikan Committee
Meanwhile, the U.S. ICBM program was advancing rapidly. The first successful launch of an Atlas ICBM was in December 1957, with the first operational launch in 1959. At about the same time, 60 Thor IRBMs were being deployed in the United Kingdom. Also in December 1957, Ramo-Wooldridge incorporated its Guided Missile Division into an organization known as Space Technology Laboratories (STL), a wholly owned subsidiary. A year later, wishing to expand into missile hardware manufacturing, Ramo-Wooldridge merged with Thompson Products to become Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge (TRW). STL’s board of directors, chaired by Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle (who later joined the Aerospace board of trustees), was separate from TRW’s. The GSE/TD performed by STL continued to be technically successful; however, friction developed between STL and its associated contractors, and the working relationship became a problem.
The House Government Operations Committee, chaired by California congressman Chet Holifield, had received industry complaints about STL’s role. The potential conflict of interest was a major concern. In 1959, James H. Douglas, secretary of the Air Force, appointed a committee—headed by Clark B. Millikan of Caltech—to perform a study of Air Force missile and space systems management approaches and to recommend a solution. The Millikan committee’s recommendation, made in January 1960, was for the creation of a noncompetitive organization to provide technical assistance to the Air Force.
The Air Force concluded that only a nonprofit corporation would be acceptable to Congress, and since TRW would not convert STL to nonprofit status, the Air Force would sponsor the establishment of a new nonprofit corporation.
The secretary of the Air Force, Dudley Sharp, convened a committee on April 1, 1960, to begin the process of assembling the corporation, known simply as “Corporation A” (this temporary designation was coincidence, and had nothing to do with the eventual naming of the corporation). In May, the Air Force briefed its plan to the House Government Operations Committee. Corporation A incorporated as a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation under the laws of California as The Aerospace Corporation on June 3, 1960. The purposes of the corporation were exclusively scientific: “to engage in, assist and contribute to the support of scientific activities and projects for, and to perform and engage in research, development and advisory services to or for, the United States government.”
The first meeting of the board of trustees took place in New York City on June 4, 1960—a day after the official incorporation of the company. Much was accomplished: corporate by-laws were presented and adopted; eight individuals were newly elected as trustees; and a slate of officers was elected (see sidebar, The Original Board of Trustees). The board’s secretary was authorized to engage the services of independent counsel, CPAs, etc., as needed. The board discussed the issue of facilities and authorized the secretary to obtain space for the corporation’s headquarters and operations. Resolutions were passed to establish bank accounts and to establish security policies and procedures. Plans were made for the preparation of personnel policies and compensation scales, and the corporation’s principal place of business was fixed in Los Angeles county.
Perhaps most important of all the issues considered at this meeting were two special items: the organization’s mission and its leadership. The board discussed the purposes of the corporation as set forth in the proposed Air Force letter contract, and set up an ad hoc committee to select the corporation’s first president.
The Selection of Ivan A. Getting as President
Ivan Getting, born in New York City in 1912 to immigrant parents from central Europe, was an excellent choice to lead the new corporation. He was a superb physicist and engineer who could completely understand the issues faced by the United States and its military in gaining access to space. But more than that, he was an experienced executive who realized the importance of nurturing the human side of a large organization, not just its technical capabilities.
By 1960, when The Aerospace Corporation was opening its doors, Getting had already accumulated an impressive résumé full of scientific achievements. He had been director of the Radar and Fire Control Division of MIT’s Radiation Laboratory. He had worked on the development of the SCR-584 radar tracking system in World War II, which intercepted German V-1 rockets fired toward England. During the Korean War, he had been assistant for developmental planning of the Air Force, responsible for areas such as tactical air warfare, civil defense, and air defense. He made contributions to Project Nobska, a 1956 Navy study that recommended development of a submarine-based ballistic missile that became Polaris. And as vice president of Research and Engineering at Raytheon, he oversaw the production of transistors. (This was the first time they were produced on a commercial basis.)
Joseph Charyk, acting secretary of the Air Force, was the one who first approached Getting and asked him to consider being president and CEO of the new corporation. He agreed. Getting became an active, accomplished leader who was very much a part of the corporation’s emerging identity. He was well known throughout the aerospace industry. He served as president from 1960 until his retirement in 1977.
The Corporate Offices
In December 1960, the Air Force purchased what was known as the R&D Center, on the southeast corner of El Segundo and Aviation Boulevards, from STL, which had housed its engineering support staff, research staff, and administrative staff there. Along with a written agreement describing the transfer of personnel from STL to the new Aerospace, an agreement was signed on the assumption of STL leases by Aerospace and the Air Force purchase.
This location became The Aerospace Corporation’s first home. Plans were made for subsequent construction of a corporate headquarters on the southwest corner of El Segundo and Aviation Boulevards. Groundbreaking for the new headquarters took place in January 1963, and construction continued into 1964. When Aerospace transitioned to its new headquarters, the Air Force moved into the space Aerospace had vacated in the old R&D Center—so the physical location of the two neighboring complexes, across Aviation Boulevard from each other, reflected the conceptual partnership; it was a true collocation.
Meanwhile, on April 1, 1961, the Air Force split the Ballistic Missile Division into two divisions and announced plans to move one of them, Ballistic Systems, to Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino. The second division, Space Systems, would remain in El Segundo. Accordingly, Aerospace established a corporate location known as San Bernardino Operations that would eventually include more than 1000 employees supporting Air Force missile programs.
In May 1962, the corporation leased office space near Norton. Subsequently, Aerospace purchased 80 acres adjacent to the base and broke ground on the site for new facilities. By February 9, 1963, Aerospace had moved into the new buildings—so in fact, the San Bernardino facilities were built and occupied before the main El Segundo campus. San Bernardino functioned with some degree of autonomy, taking direction from El Segundo headquarters but conducting day-to-day operations on its own.
When Aerospace was established, it assumed responsibility for some programs previously overseen by STL and was also put in charge of several new initiatives. For example, STL retained direction of the Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman missiles, but Aerospace was involved in their conversion to space boosters. Similarly, Aerospace supported—but not in a lead role—the MIDAS, Discoverer, and SAMOS programs (the three components of Weapon System 117L). Aerospace did assume GSE/TD for the launch component of the Dyna-Soar spaceplane, the Mercury program, and the Transit III navigation satellites. For the ADVENT, BAMBI, and SAINT surveillance and missile defense systems, Aerospace had GSE/TD for both the launch and satellite components. Work in space systems was predominantly carried out at the main offices in El Segundo; work in missiles and missile defense systems primarily occurred in San Bernardino.
A major portion of the corporation’s work in the early years focused on launch vehicles and facilities, including vehicle development and testing as well as the launch process itself. The first space launch vehicles, such as Atlas, Thor, and Titan, were direct descendants of ballistic missiles, from which they inherited much technology. To be useful for military satellite systems, they often required the addition of an upper stage such as Able, Burner, Agena, and Centaur. The early 1960s saw an effort to standardize these launch vehicles: the Blue Scout rocket was designated Space Launch Vehicle (SLV)-1, the Thor as SLV-2, and the Atlas as SLV-3. Aerospace’s Standard Launch Vehicle program office had technical surveillance for SLV-2 and SLV-3 as well as Able Star and Agena (which could serve as an upper stage or a satellite).
When Aerospace was founded, it took over and completed an Air Force study known as Project Phoenix; the goal of the study was to conceive a flexible family of relatively low-cost large launch vehicles combining liquid and solid rockets; this research contributed to the development of some of the most important space launchers.
Among the first navigation systems were the Navy Transit and Air Force Project 621B—precursors to today’s GPS. The first surveillance systems that Aerospace supported included Corona, MIDAS, SAMOS, and Vela—which all had at least one successful launch—and BAMBI and SAINT, which never flew (Sam Tennant, who became the third president of Aerospace, joined the company in 1961 as manager of the BAMBI program). Early communications systems included ADVENT, Skynet, IDCSP, NATO, and TACSAT. Aerospace support included GSE/TD for the launch vehicles and operations as well as for the satellites themselves. The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) also began to take shape in the early 1960s. Aerospace did not have GSE/TD responsibility for the initially classified DMSP system, but nonetheless contributed to early designs and instruments.
Controlling and communicating with launch and space systems required an intensive investment in the ground infrastructure. Here again, Aerospace made significant contributions in the early years. For example, the Satellite Test Center—which served as the control station for Discoverer/Corona—was located in Sunnyvale, California. In September 1961, the Air Force asked Aerospace to take over GSE/TD for the satellite control system program; the Aerospace Palo Alto office assisted with this task. A satellite control office for Discoverer was also established in El Segundo.
Aerospace’s support of ballistic systems was somewhat different from its responsibilities with space systems, where it took care of GSE/TD for entire launch systems. For ballistic systems, the company became responsible for conceptual studies and subsystems such as reentry vehicles, guidance, and anti-missile targets. Within a few years of the company’s startup, these activities involved up to 25 percent of the entire staff.
This early missile work was oriented toward several main areas, including survivable basing systems, advanced reentry vehicles, and defense-penetrating reentry systems. It was done by two corporate divisions, Missile Systems and Reentry Systems. Missile Systems supported the Minuteman vehicle and various systems and subsystems. Reentry Systems supported the Advanced Ballistic Reentry Systems (ABRES) program, specific reentry systems such as the Mark 12, and multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs).
One of the first major programs to occupy the technical resources of San Bernardino was Project 75, which began in October 1963. The project, which involved about 150 members of the technical staff, demonstrated the feasibility of the MIRV concept and harnessed the power of digital computing, which was still in its infancy.
The company’s work in survivable basing focused on how to ensure that U.S. ICBM installations would survive a first strike to deliver a retaliatory strike. One subject of interest was mobility as a basing concept—the ability to situate missiles on moveable platforms from which they could be launched. Where missiles could not be moved, they needed to be hardened. Aerospace studied situations where missile silos were to be drilled into rock or otherwise shored up to withstand what was practically a direct hit. Yet another component in this work was the idea of defended missile installations. Missile defense is a vast subject that has evolved greatly since the 1960s, and although many of Aerospace’s early studies in this field did not develop, they nevertheless helped optimize existing ICBM installations and had an effect on reentry vehicle designs for anti-ballistic missile systems.
To help deal with limits on the number of Minuteman missiles, Aerospace became involved with the idea of shrinking warheads and their reentry vehicles. This enabled three reentry vehicles, instead of one, to be positioned on each Minuteman, compensating for the lack of launchers. With multiple warheads on a single missile, enemy defenses could be quickly overwhelmed. The system eventually became Minuteman III. MIRV contributions came from developments and test programs associated with Aerospace reentry programs.
A Solid Foundation
The early years of the U.S. space and missile programs were marked by a sense of urgency and common purpose. In just a few years, the nation would make tremendous strides toward harnessing the power of space, and Aerospace support would help the Air Force achieve its goal of space superiority and strategic missile readiness. By establishing its credentials as the government’s independent trusted agent, the corporation laid a solid foundation that would carry it through the next century and beyond.
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