Air University Press


Dr. David N. Spires

  • Published

Author of Assured Access: A History of the United States Air Force Space Launch Enterprise, 1945–2020

Dr. David N. Spires is senior instructor emeritus in the department of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder who specializes in space, military, and German history. During his military career he taught at the US Air Force Academy. His book publications include Assured Access: A History of the US Air Force Space Launch Enterprise, 1947–2020 (Air University Press, 2022), On Alert: An Operational History of the United States Air Force Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Program, 1945–2011 (Air Force History and Museums Program, 2012), Beyond Horizons: A History of the Air Force in Space, 1947–2007 (Air Force Space Command, 2007), Orbital Futures: Selected Documents in Air Force Space History (Air Force Space Command, 2004), and Patton’s Air Force: Forging a Legendary Air-Ground Team (Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2002).

Assured Access: A History of the United States Air Force Space Launch Enterprise, 1945–2020

In Assured Access: A History of the United States Air Force Space Launch Enterprise, 1945–2020, David N. Spires surveys more than six decades of Air Force launch support for the nation’s military, intelligence, and civilian space communities. From their inception as refurbished ballistic missiles, Air Force boosters have launched national security space payloads for the US Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office, as well as for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and commercial and other civilian elements. The basic technology that had produced the expendable launch space boosters of the early Cold War era changed little in fundamental engineering and manufacturing processes from that period until the advent of the evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) program at the turn of the new century. Expendable launch vehicles had been the backbone of Air Force space flight until the arrival of the space shuttle, with its promise of routine access to space. By the early 1980s, that promise had become increasingly problematical as space shuttle development and launch rate promises failed to meet projected targets. After 1986, in the wake of the Challenger disaster, the Air Force saw in the EELV families of Delta IV and Atlas V boosters the prospect of responsive, reliable, and affordable space launch. Although the EELV program largely achieved those objectives, new competition from SpaceX and other providers created an altered landscape of more efficient launch systems and reusable and partially reusable boosters. The EELV program gave way to the National Security Space Launch program. The emphasis on more responsive space launch to confront a growing threat to US space assets also embraced the small rocket efforts of the Rocket Systems Launch Program. Together, the National Security Space Launch program and Rocket Systems Launch Program promise assured access to space well into the future.
[David N. Spires / 2022 / no. 527 / Print: 978-1-58566-311-8, Digital: 978-1-58566-317-0 / AU Press Code: no. B-173]

Book Review by Project MUSE

Beyond Horizons: A Half Century of Air Force Space Leadership

In September 2006, the Office of the Command Historian at Air Force Space Command commissioned Dr. Spires to do a major update of Beyond Horizons, asking him to undertake three major tasks in this revision: 1) review and correct any factual or contextual errors identified in the original edition; 2) bring the narrative up to date from the point at which the original story ended to 2006 (basically a ten-year period that incorporated space-related events such as Operation Allied Force, Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom , Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as the impact of the 2001 Space Commission report); and 3) incorporate insights the author gained during the production of Orbital Futures, his follow-up documentary history of the Air Force in space, published in 2004.

Download Beyond Horizons: A History of the Air Force in Space, 1947-2007

Beyond Horizons: A Half Century of Air Force Space Leadership

In this book, the author embarks on a study of the Air Force’s long involvement in initiating, developing, and applying the technology of space-based systems in support of the nation’s security. His analysis ranges from America's space and missile efforts prior to the launch of the Soviet sputniks in 1957, right up to the coming of age of military space employment in the Persian Gulf War of 1991. The author offers an assessment of the Air Force's leadership position in the ongoing debate over service roles and missions and its vision for the nation's space program entering the new century. This book is a slightly revised edition of a book originally published by Air Force Space Command in 1997.
[David N. Spires; George W. Bradley III, sr. ed.; Rick W. Sturdevant and Richard S. Eckert / 1998 / 406 pages / ISBN: 1-58566-060-4 / AU Press Code: B-63]

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Q1: How did you plan and scope a research and writing project of this size?

For a survey book of this nature, I decided a chronological and topical approach would best address the challenge of covering 75 years of space launch history in narrative form. Fortunately, my previous books, On Alert and Beyond Horizons, helped me develop a working outline, while initial reading and bibliographical searches suggested the central theme of Assured Access by means of responsive, reliable, and affordable launch.

Initially, I intended to examine potential sources located in four Air Force archives, those of Air Force Space Command, the Space and Missile Systems Center, the 45th Space Wing, and the 30th Space Wing. Once the importance of small, more responsive launch operations became clear, I added Kirtland AFB’s Small Launch and Targets Division to my list. I benefitted enormously from the opportunity to access key archival documents provided by helpful base archivists and historians.

I also considered it essential to visit the nation’s two major launch sites, at Vandenberg AFB, CA, and Cape Canaveral AFS, FL The opportunity to observe firsthand the launch complexes at both bases provided a good appreciation for and perspective on the scale of launch operations, both past and present, and helped make the study more realistic. Although I had planned to observe scheduled launches while there, they were postponed due to inclement weather.

Q2: Where there any surprises that emerged from your research on space launch?

I was pleasantly surprised by the extent of cooperation I received from over 30 space launch veterans who kindly allowed me to correspond with and/or interview them. These launch veterans took great pride in their work, largely, I suspect for having served in the classified arena of National Reconnaissance Office operations. Having had little opportunity to share their national security space experiences openly before relatively recent declassification measures, they were very forthcoming in responding to my every question and eager to discuss their experiences. Assured Access would not have been possible without the contributions of these space veterans.

I was also surprised to find how difficult it has been to achieve affordable, reliable, and especially responsive launch capabilities. While the advent of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles made space launch more affordable and reliable through standardization of vehicles and procedures, a rapid responsive space launch capability remains an ongoing challenge for space launch planners. Contrary to conventional wisdom, payload issues rather than vehicle problems have proven to be the key impediment to rapid, responsive launch. The current emphasis on small launch operations offers the best prospect of achieving a timely responsive launch capability.

Q3: What do you hope the reader will take away from this work?

I would hope the reader of Assured Response will take away an appreciation of the space launch enterprise in supporting national security objectives and the central role of the Air Force in continuing to ensure access to space for the nation’s space enterprise.[/item[

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