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The Kitty Hawk of the Space Age

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Sharks, the milestones just keep coming! Last September, our Air Force celebrated its 60th year of existence. Earlier this week, Bettye Krieter of our Human Space Flight Support Office marked her 60th year of government service. Next week, on Jan. 31 we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launch of America's first satellite - Explorer 1.

The launch of Explorer 1 was a watershed event in our glorious space history. It was a small payload launched on a modified Army Redstone missile or Jupiter C rocket on Launch Complex 26, from what was then called the Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex. Although Explorer 1 only weighed about 31 pounds, its success had a huge impact and was the catalyst that pushed America into the Space Age. In fact, some would argue that it is the single most important payload ever launched from the Cape.

The significance of Explorer 1 cannot be denied. The Cold War was on and the Soviets had already launched two satellites called Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2. The prevailing feeling here in the United States and around the world was that the Soviets were clearly winning the space race and that the U.S. could not afford to slip further behind. Once the decision was made to allow the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to go ahead and try to launch a satellite on a modified Redstone, it took less than 90 days to get the Explorer 1 mission off the ground safely and successfully. That is a testament to the outstanding people who served on the launch team 50 years ago.

Fortunately, because so many of them were so young, several members of that launch team and their family members will join us Jan. 31 to celebrate what they accomplished that night, half a century ago in austere conditions. Hopefully, many of you can join us at the Space and Missile Museum as we salute them as American heroes and space flight pioneers. They are living history and it will be my great pleasure and honor to pay tribute to them.

In addition, we will be joined at the ceremony by retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Bob Dickman, who on behalf of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics will team with me to unveil a bronze marker heralding the selection of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as a national Historic Aerospace Site!

The launch of Explorer 1 was just one of many events that happened at the Cape that make it more than worthy of this tremendous honor. The Cape is truly hallowed ground. It is to space flight what Kitty Hawk is to aviation. With such a rich history and supportive community, I cannot think of a finer place to serve. Go Sharks!