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  • Aloha Space Age:NASA and the Hawaiian Islands, 1957—1970
  • David A. Smith (bio)

I have been part of that generation so inspired by the space program. Nineteen sixty-one was the year of my birth, the year that Kennedy made his announcement. And one of my earliest memories is sitting on my grandfather's shoulders, waving a flag as astronauts arrived in Hawai'i. For me, the space program has always captured an essential part of what it means to be an American: reaching for new heights, stretching beyond what previously did not seem possible. And so as President, I believe that space exploration is ... an essential part of that quest.

—US President Barack Obama, 2010 1

When scholars and the general public recall the early years of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) space pro-gram, from Project Mercury through Project Apollo, the Cape and Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Manned Space Flight Center in Houston are the two earthbound locales that usually first come to mind. 2 Over the years, historians have also turned their attention to other sites outside of southeast Texas and Florida's space coast that played significant roles in space exploration. 3 One region that has [End Page 1] been almost universally overlooked by academic and popular authors alike, however, has been the State of Hawai'i, which became the fiftieth state just one year after NASA was established in November 1958. While the world's premier and perhaps most controversial astronomical site at Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai'i has been the subject of several studies (including one in this journal 4 ), the stories of the Hawaiian Islands' engagement with the movement of people to and from space and the Moon, including residents' responses to the Space Age, have not been told.

From NASA's formative years through the early 1970s, the Hawaiian Islands played important and colorful roles in space exploration. On the island of Kaua'i, the Kōke'e tracking station was an integral part of the agency's tracking and communications network for the early human space flights that made up the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. O'ahu was the first port of call for astronauts returning from the Moon. The island of Hawai'i became the first choice for astronaut geology training and other lunar space-related activities. There were other significant, if less tangible, connections as well. From the aftermath of the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik I through the dramatic return of the Apollo 13 astronauts in 1970, most, if not all, of Hawai'i's residents, local press, politicians, celebrities, schools, and cultural institutions consistently embraced space travel programs and related activities with a sense of enthusiasm and "great aloha" (especially in terms of greetings for returning astronauts) with a participation rate far out of proportion to Hawai'i's small population. A variety of schemes for space launch centers and facilities, related exhibition and educational programs, and spontaneous celebrations of NASA successes seemed to be everywhere in Hawai'i during the 1960s. Examining the Hawaiian Islands' engagement and welcome of these NASA initiatives fills an existing void in the literature and provides a window, from a mid-Pacific perspective, into understanding why the space program experienced the highest level of public approval of all major US federal initiatives during this era. 5

Rockets, Missiles, and Moonports

Most scholars accept that the Space Age began when the Soviet Union launched the world's first man-made satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957. [End Page 2] The United States quickly took notice and began focusing more attention on its own fledgling space initiatives. In the post-war period, the US Congress was alarmed by the perceived Soviet threat to America's security and to its now questionable lead in world technology. As historian Andreas Reichstein contends: "The reaction of the American people to the successful launch of Sputnik . . . has been compared to the one after Pearl Harbor." 6 Troubled O'ahu residents once again looked to the skies and, in November, reported spotting the companion rocket to the Soviet's "first artificial 'moon'" as it...


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