by Lynn Gonzales
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFPN) — Air Force Space Command will recognize three men who played prominent roles in Air Force early space and missile programs during a ceremony here Sept. 21.
Col. Joseph Kittinger Jr., Col. Thomas O’Regan Haig and Dr. Ruben "Rube" Mettler will be presented with the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award, which includes induction into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame. Kittinger, Haig and Mettler made significant contributions to many of the Air Force’s and the nation’s advances in space and missile technology during the 1950s and 1960s.
Kittinger participated in the early stratospheric balloon programs, Projects Man High and Excelsior, and holds world records for a series of parachute jumps that provided some of the earliest data on the effects of a near-space environment on the human body. In 1960, he parachuted from a balloon at an altitude of 102,800 feet, breaking the sound barrier before his chute opened 16 miles and 4 minutes and 36 seconds later.
As an Air Force pilot, he flew several operational and experimental aircraft. In May 1972, Kittinger was shot down in his F-4 Phantom over Hanoi and served 10 months as a prisoner of war. He went on to command an F-4 squadron and served as vice commander of an F-4 fighter wing.
Haig played an important role in precursor programs to the Air Force’s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. In the 1960s, he led efforts which laid the groundwork for today’s weather and environmental satellites by developing early military systems to monitor cloud cover and establishing a network of ground stations and control centers.
Mettler managed the development program for Thor, the first Air Force missile to use inertial guidance. Following the program’s success in 1956, he oversaw system engineering and technical direction for the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile program for three years.
The Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award Program began in 1989 with the National Space Club’s selection of 10 space pioneers. The program formalized in 1997 as the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award during the Air Force’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. With the induction of Kittinger, Haig and Mettler, the Hall of Fame will include 21 members.
* Air Force Space Command