Onizuka AFS/AFB Talk at Sunnyvale Historical Society

Ooh! Exciting Stuff, I know… and look at those font colors…

Two days ago (20 June 2022), I spoke in front of an audience at the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum on the legacy of Onizuka Air Force Base/Station. I spoke to a mixed audience of interested community members, Society officers, and former Blue Cube workers for about an hour, and had a lengthy Q&A session afterwards.

I was honored to be asked to speak to the denizens of Sunnyvale about the former base’s mission and place in U.S. space history. As I mentioned to one attendee, I felt like I was giving a presentation about nuclear physics to Albert Einstein… total imposter syndrome in full effect. Naturally, I worried about how they would respond and what questions would they ask.

My fears were totally unfounded, because those who were “in the know” did not call out the cursory historical coverage. As I mentioned early in the talk, nearly every satellite and topic within the presentation could be chatted about for 1 hour each (if not more). My goal was to present the information to inform them (or their family members – spouses and children) about the work they helped support during the Cold War era.

My Public Speaking professor would be proud… eye contact, humor, and no notecards!

On the flip side – and the most exciting part – I was able to engage with a number of these folks and hear their stories. One man mentioned working on the base’s phone lines to help ground station crews in Thule, Greenland (POGO, or Operating Location 5) make morale calls to their families in the U.S. Another anecdote passed along was a former food delivery person wondering why the high security at the mysterious Blue building when he was delivering sandwiches and meals during the nighttime work shift. I gave out business cards, if these folks ever felt like expanding about their piece of “the story.”

Each one of these individuals – OZ workers to non-affiliated community members – have a piece of the sociological history of the base. While excellent systems engineering histories have been written about the Air Force Satellite Control Facility (AFSCF) on Sunnyvale AFS, I find that there are a number of story “angles” that have not been covered.

A respected aviation historian once commented to me: “What’s so special about [that place]? They just flew satellites… I guess I’m not seeing the point..” The comment struck me, as he was an operator, and felt like the “only” history worth saving was about (flying) operations and the aircraft they flew.

Well, a number of Air Force members didn’t wear pilot wings, and would never see the Earth from altitude… they supported the force and the nation through other means… sometimes flying satellites, or troubleshooting computer errors, and tracing communication circuits through plenum flooring for hours at a time.

The talk started with this quote from Gandhi:

The quote was taken shamelessly from a NRO publication (that mysteriously disappeared from their website – Internet Archive version list is available) but I believe it perfectly encapsulates the work done at the Blue Cube and the Stick.

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