SMC Celebrates 54 Years
By Dr. Harry Waldron, SMC History Office
/ Published July 01, 2008
LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Space and Missile Systems Center celebrated its 54th anniversary since its first organizational ancestor, the Western Development Division, with a cake-cutting ceremony at the Gordon Conference Center, today. Col. Samuel Greaves, SMC Military Satellite Communications Systems Wing commander hosted the event. Approximately 200 Los Angeles Air Force Base military and civilian personnel attended the event.
On July 1, 1954, the Air Research and Development Command ordered the activation of WDD in Inglewood, Calif., with then Brig. Gen. Bernard Schriever as its first commander. General Schriever, who later became a 4-star general and commanded all Air Force acquisition efforts, was one of the giants of Air Force history and, in particular, one of the most important architects of Air Force research and development.
A statue in the courtyard of the Schriever Space Complex at Los Angeles AFB represents his visionary character. In July 1954, however, his mission, while difficult, could be explained rather simply: develop and deploy the Atlas inter-continental ballistic missile before the Soviet Union could turn its more mature ICBM technology into a decisive strategic advantage.
To help General Schriever get WDD under way, he had only the 17 people to assist him. Their names are currently listed on the WDD Memorial Rock, which now stands in the courtyard of the Schriever Space Complex. Contractors of the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, the ancestor of The Aerospace Corporation also assisted in the project. At first, WDD's offices were located in buildings formerly occupied by St. John's Catholic Church and school, the only vacant facilities that were available near the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation. These early headquarters have attained almost legendary status as "the old schoolhouse," but they were actually occupied for only about a year until new offices could be constructed near Los Angeles International Airport.
As we know now, General Schriever and his staff would succeed brilliantly in developing not only the Atlas, but many other strategic missiles in time to shield this nation from strategic threats. In 1955, the Air Research and Development Command added the space mission to WDD's responsibilities by transferring the first Air Force satellite program - known as the Advanced Reconnaissance System or Weapon System 117L - to General Schriever's control. Most of the huge family of space programs managed by SMC and its predecessors have grown directly out of that first multi-mission satellite concept.