Space Has Always Been Militarized, Just Not Weaponized — Not Yet, Anyway

Explorer-1, the first U.S. satellite, was launched by the Army before NASA was established. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
In the most recent meeting of the National Space Council on Oct. 23, officials discussed how to implement a proposed new branch of the military called the Space Force. And over and over, they’ve pointed to the long history of American military leadership in space as justification for the organizational need.

By Meghan Bartels |

It’s a history that some space fans don’t even realize exists. But when, for example, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence argues for the Space Force by saying that space has always been a military realm, he’s portraying history accurately and isn’t confessing to a violation of international treaties.

Let’s start from the beginning — literally, with the earliest days of space exploration. When the U.S. launched its first satellites, there was no NASA. Instead, the Army, the Air Force and even the Navy were all thinking about space. „The bottom line point is that the military has been involved in space activities since there were space activities,“ John Logsdon, a space historian at George Washington University, told To reduce interbranch bickering, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to oversee all military space work. [What Is the US Space Force?]

But Eisenhower was also talked into creating a separate civilian agency — what became NASA. And if you’ve heard plenty about NASA’s work, even its geopolitical Apollo program, but not so much about DARPA’s, that’s not surprising. „Well, in a sense it was on purpose, to have on one hand an open civilian agency doing things that the country could brag about, while at the same time on the other side you were doing national security things that you didn’t talk about,“ Logsdon said. „NASA was a very effective way of shifting the attention to the civilian side.“

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