Air Force announces space, missile pioneer awards
Posted: August 24, 2003

Four visionaries were selected to receive the 2003 Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award. They will be honored in an award ceremony and hall of fame induction luncheon Aug. 28.

John Herther, retired Brig. Gen. Martin Menter, retired Navy Capt. Robert Truax, and retired Col. Albert Wetzel will receive the award from Gen. Lance Lord, Air Force Space Command commander. The award recognizes people who played significant roles in the advancement of Air Force space and missile programs.

"This award is especially significant because at the time, for political and security reasons, these men received little public recognition for their accomplishments," said Skip Bradley, the command's historian. "The award gives them the formal recognition they never received while actively contributing to the Air Force space mission."

Herther, in his May 1955 master's thesis, proposed placing a satellite in a 300-mile, circular orbit by means of computer-controlled vernier thrusters from rocket burnout to apogee. From this foundation, he worked as an Air Force lieutenant and Itek engineer to design a three-axis stabilization system during the late 1950s that enabled Lockheed's Agena space vehicle to become the workhorse of the Corona reconnaissance program.

Menter, in his May 1959 thesis asserted that the Roman theory, "maxim ex facto oritur jus" (law rises from fact) was appropriate for developing space law. His was one of the first legal treatises on space law anywhere. He was especially concerned with the effects of space activity on the concept of sovereignty, and from the 1960s onward was an international leader in the fields of aeronautical and space law.

Truax began experimenting with liquid-fueled rocket engines while at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1936. Frustrated with the Navy's progress in large-scale rocket development, he was assigned to the U.S. Air Force's Western Development Division in 1955. There, he played an instrumental role in the early stages of intermediate-range ballistic missile and military satellite system development.

Wetzel directed the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile program from its concept stage to operational readiness from 1958 to 1961. His leadership resulted in the decision to make a complete configuration change for Titan II. It remained on alert as an ICBM into the late 1980s, was man-rated to launch NASA's Gemini spacecraft into Earth's orbit and was refurbished to launch satellites into the 21st century.

The award was first given under the sponsorship of the National Space Club in Washington, D.C., which in 1989 honored 10 key military and civilian leaders in the Air Force space program. In 1997, the program was revitalized and established as an official Air Force award under space command. It was renamed the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award and was first presented in 1997 during the Air Force's 50th anniversary celebrations.