Since the beginning of time, seafarers have used the high ground to gain advantage over adversaries, look farther over the horizon, and chart their course using the stars. The United States Navy has played an often overlooked but pivotal role in the exploration and exploitation of the high ground of space. As early as 1945, Navy Reservist, Lieutenant Robert Haviland, wrote an internal memo proposing that the Navy initiate a program leading to a manned space station.
Most of this early research into the possibility of space exploration was pursued by the Naval Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research. Both labs provided an early understanding of the upper atmosphere and the dynamics and feasibility of space rocketry.
In 1946, the Chief of Naval Operations said the investigation of earth satellite vehicles would "contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the field of guided missiles, communications, meteorology, and other technical fields with military applications. "The need for global command and control of the U.S. fleet was obvious and the only way to do that efficiently and effectively was from space.
The Navy VIKING program would provide a wealth of knowledge on rocket dynamics and set several altitude records in the process. Admiral Arleigh Burke also saw the future potential of space saying, in a 1959 memo, "The use of satellites for Naval purposes is going to come about in a few years; also, the necessity for close coordination of things pertaining to space with other Naval functions will become increasingly important."
In 1959, the PROJECT MERCURY manned space program would see the selection of three Navy and one Marine aviator as part of the original seven astronauts; Lieutenant Malcolm S. Carpenter, Lieutenant Commander Alan B. Sheppard, Lieutenant Commander Walter M. Schirra, and the little less know Major John Glenn, USMC, the first American to orbit the earth.
1960 saw the advent of the Navy's TRANSIT satellite navigation system by launching and showing the feasibility of using satellites as navigational aids. The 1960's also brought the APOLLO space program which included numerous Navy and Marine officers. Twelve Navy astronauts participated in moon-related missions, and six Navy officers walked on the moon, to include, the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Four Navy and two Marine Corps officers participated in Skylab missions.
In 1970's the Naval Research Laboratory began the development of the Atomic Clock which became instrumental in the success of the Global Positioning System (GPS). The GPS system became operational in the late 1980's and is now an integral part of everyday life, GPS receivers are now options in automobiles today.
The Navy has a rich heritage and legacy in space, to numerous to mention here, and continues to lead the way in the fielding of future space capabilities.