As I have been working on the NaNoWriMo challenge, I learned something new about Civil Air Patrol that I never knew. CAP was a key player in Operation Moonwatch. Never heard about it, well, let me take a moment to share what I have learned.
On 4 October 1957, the space age began when the Soviet Union had launched and placed the first artificial satellite into orbit. In midsummer 1957, a program to help train volunteer observers for Operation Moonwatch was carried out by the Civil Air Patrol in preparation for the satellite launch.
The United States Air Force was requested as part of the support to the International Geophysical Year program to perform a series of tracking missions trailing a tiny simulated earth satellite across the sky to train observers for the moon watch program. The probable expensive of such a training program using Air Force jet aircraft appeared to be astronomical. A method was devised where the same results could be obtained utilizing the light aircraft with volunteer crews of the Civil Air Patrol. CAP flight crews across the nation flew night missions while a tiny 1/10 candlepower light trailed behind their aircraft. They flew at an altitude and speed almost exactly stimulating the appearance of a real satellite hundreds of miles above the earth.
An urgent request came from the National Academy of Science for Civil Air Patrol to assume the responsibility of transmitting predictions on the satellites movement to hundreds of photographic tracking stations across the country. CAP’s national-wide radio network provided a fast way of passing on the results from the volunteer moon watch observers. Observers also tracked the satellites electronically and with photography. During this period, CAP did much to weave the effective wing and region communications network into a true national radio net.
The move to the space age also prompted CAP headquarters educational experts to begin preparing and new aviation text book called Rockets, Missiles and Aeronautics.
To learn more about Operation Moonwatch, read: