- Press Release
- Dec 9, 2022
Air Force celebrates pioneers of space frontier
2nd Lt. Jennifer Casey
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Every frontier has pioneers, and the final frontier is no exception.
Men who forged new ground for Air Force space and missile programs will gather here for a formal ceremony Aug. 29.
James S. Coolbaugh and Dr. James G. Baker are the 2002 Air Force Space and Missile honorees and will be inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame.
Last year’s award winners, retired Lt. Gen. Forrest McCartney and retired Cols. Lee Battle and Frank “Buzz” Buzard will also be honored. The 2001 ceremony and induction were cancelled due to the events of Sept. 11.
“The impact of their work over the years proves that these men are not just contributors to space, but true pioneers in the field,” said Dr. Skip Bradley, Air Force Space Command historian. “This award honors those who couldn’t be recognized at the time of their achievements because security and political situations did not permit it.”
Coolbaugh and Baker primarily earned their honors in the sensitive area of photoreconnaissance. Their work was instrumental in the development of space surveillance systems.
Coolbaugh’s career began after completing the Air Force’s Guided Missile Course at the University of Michigan and accepting an assignment to the Wright Air Development Center in September 1952. Later that year he became the first manager of the then un-funded photoreconnaissance satellite program recommended for development by the Air Force. He continued to push for studies and development of the program until it was officially endorsed by the Air Force and named the Advanced Reconnaissance System in 1954.
Coolbaugh moved to the Western Development Division in Inglewood, Calif., in early 1956. His work involved selecting the Army’s Camp Cooke (later renamed Vandenberg AFB) as the location for west coast space and missile launch operations.
In late 1959, Coolbaugh worked on a reconfiguration of the Thor to increase its payload lifting capacity. The result – the Thrust Augmented Thor – later evolved into the Delta II.
Baker began his work in photoreconnaissance programs in late 1940. After receiving a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics in 1942, he assisted the work of the Army Air Corps Photographic Laboratory at Wright Field where he designed lenses for aerial cameras used in photoreconnaissance and mapping.
By the mid-1950s, optical systems designed by Baker appeared in almost all of the cameras installed in American photoreconnaissance aircraft. He designed much of the camera systems and the lenses used in the Air Force SR-71 Blackbird.
Baker developed numerous major optical systems including the Baker-Nunn satellite-tracking camera. The Baker-Nunn camera became the cornerstone of the Air Force’s early satellite tracking and space surveillance networks and has provided tracking data for the Air Force for more than three decades.
This year marks the 20th anniversary celebration of AFSPC and the 5th annual presentation of the Space and Missile Pioneer Award. This year’s inductees bring the total number of Hall of Fame members to 26.
The Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award Program began in 1989 with the National Space Club in Washington, D.C., inducting 10 members. Four of those original Space and Missile Pioneers – James Plummer, former Under Secretary of the Air Force, retired General Bernard A. Schriever, retired Brig. Gen. William King and Col. Frederic Oder – will be on hand for this year’s ceremony.
For more information about the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneer program, visit the link on the AFSPC/HO website at http://www.spacecom.af.mil/hqafspc/history/pioneers.htm.