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The 1970's

Guest Writer: Jim Rosalanka


With the close of the 1960s, the American space program had made great strides with both its civilian and military components. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had reached its goal, established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, of "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth." The landing of Apollo 11 in July 1969 has gone down as one of the landmark events of the 20th Century.

The U.S. military in the 1960s had developed the working technology with accompanying satellites, and required procedures to conduct its assigned space missions of reconnaissance, communication, and nuclear detection. It also conducted research and development programs (R&D) in the areas of navigation and early-warning. The USAF also established all the working infrastructure for launching spacecraft into either equatorial or polar orbit, and commanding and controlling these satellites once they were in orbit.

NASA continued into the 1970s with the launches of Apollo 13 through 17. The Apollo Applications program, later known as Skylab, established America’s first space station and demonstrated the potential for man’s continuous presence in space. The initial thawing of the Cold War gave the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. the opportunity for the first cooperative manned venture into space with the Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP). But not all of NASA efforts were focused on manned spaceflight. This was also the great era of interplanetary space exploration to the outer planets with the flights of Pioneer 11 and 12, along with Voyager 1 and 2, and the landing of a spacecraft on Mars with Viking 1 and 2 in July 1976.

U.S. military spacecraft continued to be either developed or enhanced during the 1970s. Most military missions assigned to the USAF, Navy, or the Army were on their way to initial operations or at least were through final development. Two important points became quite clear during this time period. First, Los Angeles Air Force Base (part of Air Force Systems Command) became for all practical purposes a defacto military operational command. It controlled the Air Force Satellite Control Facility which handled many military satellites through its operations of Remote Tracking Stations, or RTSs, throughout the whole world. It continued this important function for almost 25 years, starting in 1959, until the formation of Air Force Space Command in 1982. Second, the Navy pioneered the military space missions of tactical communications and space based navigation through its operations of the Fleet Satellite Communications Systems, known as FltSatCom, and Transit satellite system.

For the Soviet Union, the 1970s were a period of disappointment, but also a time of new beginnings. Russia had lost the manned race to the moon, both circumlunar and lunar landing. Its national pride was hurt, and to the world, it declared that it never was in a space race at all. Twenty years would pass before the truth finally came out. In the 1970s, they continued their unmanned lunar program with the Luna series, which included the first remote control rover on another planet called Lunokhod. Their overall space program was redirected towards the building and operating of a space station, and the enhancement of their manned Soyuz spacecraft. The Russians launched and manned the first earth orbiting space station in 1971, Salyut 1, but tragically, the crew perished during reentry after living and performing in space for almost 24 days. By the end of the decade, five more stations would be launched, three military and two civilian, with the end result that on-going operations were established by the Salyut series. In their planetary program, the Soviet Union was the first nation to soft-land on the planet Venus with the Venera series.



Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr. email:

Collaborators: Code 935 NASA GSFC, GST, USAF Academy
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