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Earth Satellites and Space Vehicles

The launch of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, atop a U.S. Army Jupiter C Rocket on Jan. 31, 1958. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The launch of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, atop a U.S. Army Jupiter C Rocket on Jan. 31, 1958. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Soviet Union sent the world's first man-made earth satellite into orbit in October 1957. Since that time orbiting satellites of many different kinds have become commonplace. The development of U.S. space technology began with the military, with heavy involvement by the USAF. In the mid-1950s, the Air Force, the Army and the Navy were working on several types of boosters capable of launching an object into orbit. After the Army Jupiter program was turned over to the Air Force in 1956, the USAF continued its development and that of the Atlas, Thor and Titan series of rockets. Developed first as launchers of ballistic missiles, they were also used as boosters for putting satellites into orbit. The first successful American satellite was the Explorer I, launched by a modified Army Redstone booster (also known as a Jupiter C) in January 1958.

Throughout the space program, the USAF has worked with other agencies, such as NASA, in the development of space vehicles. Communications, weather, Landsat and SARSAT (search and rescue) satellites all were developed with some degree of USAF involvement. Although the USAF's interest in satellite technology is primarily directed toward military defense purposes, much of the knowledge gained has found direct application in civilian satellite programs. Some of the satellites on display at the museum (the Block IV and the TACSAT I models are examples) illustrate the overlap in military and civilian applications in the area of communications and weather observation.

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