Press Release

Bernard Schriever, Architect of Air Force space and missile programs, dies

By SpaceRef Editor
June 22, 2005
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Retired Gen. Bernard Adolph Schriever, widely regarded as the father and architect of the Air Force space and ballistic missile programs, died of natural causes at home in Washington on June 20.

Under General Schriever’s leadership, the Air Force developed programs such as the Thor, Atlas, Titan and Minuteman missiles, and all aerospace systems that have been launched into orbit, including those supporting NASA in its Mercury man-in-space program.

General Schriever was born in 1910 in Bremen, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1917 with his parents. He began his military career in the Army field artillery, but later earned his wings and a commission in the Army Air Corps in 1933 at Kelly Field, Texas.

During World War II, then-Major Schriever served in the Pacific with the 19th Bomb Group, taking part in the Bismarck Archipelago, Leyte, Luzon, Papua, North Solomon, South Philippine and Ryukyu campaigns. By the end of the war he was commanding officer of advanced headquarters for Far East Air Service Command which supported theater operations from bases in Hollandia, New Guinea, the Philippines and Okinawa.

After the war, General Schriever was assigned to the Pentagon where he later recounted the interest by military and civilian leaders concerning the feasibility of reconnaissance satellites, especially as the nuclear age began.

“Pearl Harbor had really given us a shock, especially because of the amount of damage inflicted by that surprise attack,” General Schriever said during a 1998 interview. “President Eisenhower wanted us to determine how we could best get strategic intelligence to avoid a nuclear Pearl Harbor. That was the deciding issue in putting the Air Force into the space business.”

Space took center stage Oct. 4, 1957, when the former Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite. The Air Force responded by sending Discovery One into orbit Feb. 28, 1959.

The race to space included many successes and failures for both the ICBM and satellite programs. But General Schriever said he and his group accepted that they were taking risks because they knew if they did not develop an ICBM long-range capability and satellite reconnaissance system, there would be a major instability in the strategic balance between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

“We never lost confidence, even when we had failures, which we had plenty of in the early days,” General Schriever said. “Not a single program missed its target date of reaching operational capability. Of course there were concerns, but we met them every time.”

In 1959, General Schriever assumed command of Air Research and Development Command, which later became Air Force Systems Command on April 1, 1961, under a reorganization initiated by him. He was promoted to full general in 1961 and retired in 1966.

SpaceRef staff editor.