Gen. Hyten: Good evening, everybody. That video was pretty spectacular. But let me tell you, that last picture was a little bit awkward. So if there’s any small children in the room, I’m sorry if that scared you. I have to look at my face in the mirror every morning when I wake up, and that’s enough for me, and it’s in normal size. Oh, my gosh.
Good evening. It is really an honor for me to be here today, but it’s also a little bit intimidating. I made the mistake of looking up the list of all the people who have been asked to give this lecture and it was a big mistake. Then I made an even bigger mistake as I said, “Wow, I bet those lectures were pretty awesome.” So I went back and listened to a bunch of them. Oh, my gosh, they’re amazing.
Then I said to myself, now I’m going to stand up here and try to somehow fulfill the legacy of all the people that came before me, and it’s impossible. But all I can do is do my best.
So thank you to Roger Teague and Boeing thank you to Dr. Ellen Stofan, Chris Brown, Dr. Valerie Neal, the entire staff of the National Air and Space Museum. This place is a special place. It almost brings tears to my eyes every time I walk in because you see the history of my business. You see the history of my service. You see the history of my dreams.
So when I looked at the message I wanted to share tonight, I went back and I looked at a lecture that was given here at the John Glenn Lecture in 2009, and the last line that night I thought was pretty special. The lecture that night celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11, and next year will be the 50th Anniversary. Next year will be a special night in the Smithsonian.
But the last words said that night were, and I quote, “History is a series of random events and unpredictable choices, which is why the future is so hard to see, but we can try.”
Those words were spoken by Neil Armstrong. I tell you, you could see the twinkle in his eye as he said those last things. As he said, “but we can try.” He kind of stepped away from this microphone and he looked out, you see the little grin come on his face, you see the twinkle in his eye – but we can try. When I looked at that, I just imagine what was going on in that amazing frame, and what was going on was his fascination and curiosity of what the future was going to bring. He had already lived a life and seen things that no one had ever seen before and done things that no one had ever seen before. But where did he leave the lecture in 2009? But we can try and that’s our job.
So I want to talk to you tonight about dreams. That’s kind of the purpose of this talk, because my life has been powered by dreams. My life is also a series of incredibly random events and unpredictable choices that somehow landed me here today. And it’s a story that is so bizarre that you can’t believe it because there’s no way a blind kid from Alabama can grow up and be a four-star general in the United States Air Force. There’s no way a blind kid from Alabama can grow up and command the most powerful military command on the planet. And I don’t say that to be boastful. I say that because it’s a fact. Talk about unpredictable things – there’s no way you can guess that.
But if you’re here tonight, if you’re in an IMAX theater on a Wednesday evening at the Smithsonian Institute, I bet you that something happened in your life that sparked an interest in air and space. Maybe from childhood or later in life, but something about air and space captured your imagination. Maybe it was a visit to this museum.
For me it happened with my family in the 1960s because my dad was an engineer. We lived in Southern California. I grew up in El Segundo, Torrance, the South Bay, and he was an engineer that worked on the space program. In, December 1965 he packed up the family. I was 6 years old, my brother was 4, my sister was just about to turn 2, and we packed in a station wagon. We drove from El Segundo, California to Huntsville, Alabama. And he went to work on the Saturn V. That was a pretty amazing time to be in Huntsville. That was a magical time. And because I happened to be there, I got to watch sometimes up pretty close, the F1 main engine test. And I got to feel it when it went off. And I got to meet the engineers, and I even got to meet some of the astronauts. And I got to go to the Cape [Canaveral] with him as he put in the water suppression system that would control the vibrations of that amazing powerful rocket as it left the pad and went to the moon.
We used to have pictures in my house of the Saturn V. Actually, it was a picture of my dad standing in front of these giant steam valves, and then the Saturn V would be way in the distance. We also said, “Dad, why didn’t you take a picture of the Saturn V?” He said, “That’s not what I built down there. I built that.”
But you know, being at the Cape in the late 1960s when you’re a kid, oh my gosh.
There were a couple of moments that really changed my life, and for many in this room it would be the same moments, the first one anyway. Probably not the second. Because the first moment was July 20, 1969, two days after my 10th birthday. On my 10th birthday we were driving north as the Apollo spacecraft – the Apollo 11 spacecraft – was flying toward the moon. We arrived at my great grandfather’s house in Port Huron, Michigan, and we, just like the rest of the country, turned on the television, a black and white television, and watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. And they got there on the rocket that my dad helped build. That’s like magic.
Then another miracle happened, and this is one that was kind of unique to me because in Huntsville, Alabama, after the Apollo I accident in January 1967, the city of Huntsville and the State of Alabama, not known for great public education, decided to build three new schools – an elementary school, a middle school and a high school. And they named those schools Roger B. Chaffee Elementary School; Ed White Junior High School; and Virgil I. Grissom, Gus Grissom High School. And I got to go to Chaffee Elementary School when it opened in 1969 in the 5th grade. And I got to go to Grissom High School. But because when those schools opened I was good at math and science, my teacher, Mrs. Bradshaw, my math teacher in elementary school, allowed me to go to the opening ceremonies for those schools. And at the opening ceremony, the ribbon was cut by Dr. Wernher von Braun. And since I was the student that was selected, I got to go up and shake his hand.
So if you think about the formative point in your life, think about the summer of 1969 for a 10-year-old kid in Alabama. Oh, my gosh. It was amazing. And God, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an astronaut. I desperately wanted to be an astronaut. But you can tell by looking at me that that wasn’t going to be possible because I’m legally blind without my glasses. But you know, I wanted to get into the space business desperately. That’s what I wanted to do. So I knew my dad was in the space business, so I could do that. I could be an engineer if I just studied hard enough. And I studied hard in high school, and I was still good at math and science, and I got to my senior year in high school and there was a moment where I had taken all the math classes that public high schools in Alabama had allowed. Because back in the 1970s, Alabama did not teach calculus in high school.
But I had a teacher. That teacher’s name was Ms. Gloria Spellman. She was a special person. She passed away a couple of years ago. But she looked at me and a couple of my friends who were good at math and science and said you know what? We need to have a calculus course in this school. So she went to the principal of the school and said we need to have a calculus course. We need to figure out how to teach these kids calculus. She went and got a handful of books and she made up a curriculum and she had never taught calculus before in her life. So she was learning it with us. That’s an Alabama term, learning it.
I started applying to college and because I had taken calculus I did really good on the SATs [Scholastic Assessment Test] and the achievement tests, at least in math. You can tell my verbals weren’t so good. But I did well, and I had good grades and I applied to Harvard University and I got in. Another miracle. Another amazing thing. Then I had to figure out how to pay for it because paying for Harvard is not an easy thing to do.
So I looked around and my guidance counselor, Ms. Mary Louise Johnson, who’s still there, who saw my family just last week, she said, “You know, you can get an ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] scholarship.” I said, “Does Harvard have ROTC?” She said, “I looked it up. No, they don’t. But you could actually petition them to allow you to cross-enroll at MIT. You got into MIT too. You could cross-enroll at MIT, take ROTC down there, then you come back to Harvard. I bet you if we petition to it, they’ll let you do that.” So we did that. And the Air Force said ok.
And son of a gun, in September 1977 I show up at Harvard University. Another miracle. And I study engineering and I graduate in 1981, which was a challenge for me, but I graduated in 1981 and I joined the Air Force because that’s what I owed them, four years, and I was only going to be in the Air Force four years and get out. And son of a gun, here I am today.
So you wonder what could be next because, oh my gosh, I wanted to be an astronaut. But you never know. It might not be too late for me. John Glenn was 77 years old when he returned to space on the space shuttle in 1998. So maybe 17, 18, 19 years from now, maybe they’ll have the technology to fix my eyes, maybe they’ll make room for me on one of SpaceX’s big Falcon rockets. Or maybe the SLS [space launch system]. Or maybe Blue Origin’s New Glenn [space craft that will carry people and payloads routinely to Earth orbit]. How awesome would that be? But it could happen. It could happen if you continue to dream.
Which brings me to the concern I want to share with you tonight, because you know, I’m a little concerned about the current dreams of the youth of our country. And guess what? Just as they’ve always been, the dreams of the youth today are diverse and varied, and they’re all over the map. They always have been. And I believe they do involve space. And I see that when I see things happen in space and people get excited. It’s just not as much as I’d like.
So last week I came across an article in Ars Technica; it concerned me because it presented the results of a recent poll, a recent survey that talked about NASA’s [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] priorities being out of touch with the American people. Apparently, according to the article, everything boils down to Maslow’s hierarchy [psychology theory by Abraham Maslow] of needs, and most everybody here knows what that is. I’m not talking about the peak, I’m talking about the bottom of the pyramid, which is physiology and safety. Because according to the article, this is what the majority of Americans are worried about. They’re worried about the now, concerned with what will impact us right at this moment, or at most a few years from now. So the survey was done by the Pew Research Center, and they conducted a survey of 2,500 Americans about their top priorities for NASA, and according to the numbers, most Americans said they don’t care about space exploration. According to that sample, only 18 percent of Americans are concerned about sending people to Mars, and only 13 percent are concerned about ever sending people to the moon again. They’re more concerned about the earth’s climate, and they’re more concerned about getting hit by an asteroid. Most Americans are skeptical about the possibility of even inhabiting other planets someday.
I’ll tell you, the results are unfortunate, because if you believe this, this means we’ve lost our sense of exploration. We’ve lost our passion. We’ve lost our desire to explore. I can’t even describe to you how strongly I disagree with that.
What I really think it indicates is a chicken and the egg problem. Which comes first? If we’re not exploring, Americans aren’t excited. And we’re not exploring right now; not with humans. But if we do explore, nothing captures our imagination more. Just look at how the world stopped recently when SpaceX sent a Tesla with a mannequin into space and landed two first stages back on earth. Imagine if that was a real-live human. The entire country would be mobilized and excited. It would be. Imagine the way the whole country would rally. Imagine the way the world would stop and look at that. And imagine the way kids would be excited about what was happening.
Most kids when I was growing up were not naturally disposed to studying calculus and physics. If you grew up in Northern Alabama, the first thing you had to do was declare in first grade who are you for Alabama or Auburn? Roll tide. That’s what I declared. And even though I got my master’s degree at Auburn – which comes back to haunt me over and over and over again – I’m a huge Alabama fan. That’s what everything was about back then.
Kids weren’t excited about math and science, but the space program got me excited about math and science. That led to my passion for math and science. That passion got me into Harvard. It got me into the Air Force. It got me to be part of a generation of Air Force officers that changed warfare forever. I got to be part of something that many people don’t realize. The invention of GPS [Global Positioning System], I got to be part of that. I got to watch the Air Force try to kill the GPS program every year when I was a young officer because we had inertial nav systems. Why the heck would we need a satellite navigation system for gosh sakes? What will anybody ever do with that? We tried to kill it. My service tried to kill it over and over again. I was part of the team that tried to fight to make sure that we had the argument that said no. It was either Office of the Secretary of Defense or the Congress that put it back in every year and it survived. Now think about where the world would be.
We use space for unbelievable, ubiquitous communication so no soldier on this planet ever has to worry about communicating with his upper echelon or his commander again. We build space for missile warning, missile defense, intelligence, and so much more. More on that in a minute.
But when you think about passion and excitement, think about where I would be without a dream that came from the exploration of space, without the dream that was in the 1960s.
Now let me ask you, what do you think most of the people in this room have in common? I would postulate that most of the people in this room are geeks. That’s who I am. I don’t like the term nerd. I like the term geek because that describes who I am.
You know, space geeks come from every background possible – technical background, political science background, even from Alabama. And when I was at Grissom High School and I went to a party – which admittedly was very rare, contrary to popular belief – when we went to that party and I would say, “Let’s talk about space, let’s talk about the space program,” we did. That’s what we talked about. Because it was cool. It was awesome. And I want it to be that way in the high schools of America again. I want this country to get excited about space again because when we get excited about space, when the world is excited about space, then people get excited about physics and they get excited about calculus and even though not everybody grows up to be an astronaut, because of that passion and where it goes, everything starts opening up for you. And when the world opens up like that, people start doing different things. And when people start doing different things, all kinds of things open up. So when you think about all the amazing things that have come out of the space program, and I’ll talk about some of those in a minute, it all comes from a passion, and that passion is engendered by exploration.
This event has a proud name, and we all miss Senator Glenn. Seven decades of service to this country – aviator, engineer, astronaut, businessman, U.S. Senator, public servant, educator. Behind that legend was a simple man that was devoted to this nation, the American people and his family.
I was only three years old when Friendship 7 hurled a 168-pound astronaut into space. Can you imagine what it would have been like to sit on that rocket for the first time? I was too young to remember or realize the significance of what John Glenn did. I did get to meet him a few times in my life time. I’ve gotten to meet Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and astronaut after astronaut, I got to meet my heroes. But John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, and Scotty Carpenter said when he took off, “God speed, John Glenn.” And he went skyward.
But today’s technology is so far beyond what John Glenn had at his fingertips. But there’s one thing that stays the same. That’s the excitement and awe that space inspires.
So since John Glenn, 550 humans have been into space. In the early days it was about going to the moon and beating the Soviets. Space was a race with a clear finish line. It was a nationwide goal. It was a challenge. It sparked innovation, it catapulted science and education, and pushed boundaries and speed. Gosh, it was just remarkable.
But I’m here to report those things are still happening today. Let me take a moment to just go out sideways for a second and point out something for the folks in this crowd that love the space business and for the folks in here from NASA. This nation needs to launch its own astronauts into space. We should never rely on somebody else. That’s where dreams begin.
We don’t watch our astronauts go into space anymore because they come out of Russia. But the first time an astronaut comes into space again and flies out of the Cape, the whole country’s going to stop. That was a big mistake. We can’t let that happen.
I do want to remember another hero before I forget because recently we all learned that Alan Bean passed away. Alan Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon. He spent 31 hours exploring the lunar surface and conducting experiments. Imagine that. Thirty-one hours walking around on the moon. He was a pioneer. He held 11 world records in space and astronautics and after he retired he pursued his passion for art, painting amazing portraits of the lunar surface using actual moon dust. On the moon walk he threw his silver astronaut lapel into a crater and he always said when he looked up at the moon at night he thought about his pin up there, and how somebody, some day is going to go pick that thing up.
So the next time you look at the moon, think of Alan Bean. God speed, Alan Bean.
Let me for a few minutes talk about what I’m doing today because that stuff I’ve just been talking about was how I got here. It’s a series of amazing events. But what I do now is challenging but unbelievably important for our country and the world.
So most of you here are old enough to remember a movie. That movie was Dr. Strangelove. I think it came out in 1964. I can’t remember exactly when. But it was a parody of Strategic Air Command, the command that is the legacy of my command, and it was a parody of Gen. Curtis LeMay, who I walk past a picture of in my office every day. I live in the house that Curtis LeMay lived in for nine years as the commander of that command trying to keep this country safe. But that movie was not what Strategic Air Command was about.
Curtis LeMay was about keeping this country safe, and he built the capabilities to do that. He built the bombers. The Air Force built ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] and the Navy built nuclear submarines with submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and that became the triad. And that is the triad we still operate today -- bombers, ICBMs, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles -- and that is our first priority, to make sure that that deterrent capability is always there to defend this nation.
Our focus has expanded from that. We now have to prepare for not just one enemy, the Soviet Union, but we have to prepare for potential adversaries from across the globe – China, Russia, North Korea, although we hope that is changing, Iran, violent extremism. We have to deal with all those capabilities.
And more importantly, it’s not just nuclear. There’s 162,000 Americans that work in my command. Below the sea, below the ground, above the ground, in the air, operating in space, operating in cyberspace, across the board. We’re ready to respond to any strategic threat this nation faces. That includes in space.
For Gen. LeMay, space was pivotal for the Cold War and both Russia and the U.S. competed against each other for milestones in space explorations, but also in military power. Now it’s more than a place to go; it’s a place we have to protect.
So as the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, I have two interesting imperatives that sometimes people look at and think are contrary to each other. The first I hope is obvious to you, and that is we have to operate within space to defend our nation and use it to make sure that we can win any battle that we get into. But second, we have to defend the environment of space to preserve it for future generations. And sometimes you think those two imperatives can kind of be in conflict with each other.
Although it’s impossible to predict the future, we can still try to take steps today to create that future for ourselves. When you think about what Neil Armstrong said nine years ago, I think that’s really what he was talking about. Because you can try, you can do things to create the future that you want.
So when astronauts go into space they experience something called the overview effect. It’s defined as a cognitive shift in awareness, reported by astronauts and cosmonauts during space flight, often while viewing the earth from orbit or the lunar surface. That’s just a fancy way of saying they view the world differently.
If you look out the window from an airliner at 35,000-40,000 feet you kind of get what it could be like, but imagine what it’s like from a few hundred miles up or a few thousand miles up. The point is, there’s a huge shift for those who escape the gravity of earth. I’d argue it’s time for a similar shift in the way we think about space. You don’t have to be strapped to a rocket to get there.
It’s just recognizing that if you think about space in our country, there’s three things that we have to do: one, we have to return to dreaming because without dreams, nothing happens; then we have to recognize how important science, technology, engineering, mathematics are to the future of our country – that enables the dreams to happen, then we need to make sure we protect space so that those dreams are always possible.
So here’s something that will give you a view of an overview effect, another view. Because recently both our kids – my wife Laura’s down in front – both our kids got engaged to be married. That’s awesome. They’re 29 and 28, and they met just great people and we’re excited about the future. Two weddings in 2019. It’s going to be awesome. But you know, it got us to thinking about things we hadn’t thought about really before, and that’s grandkids. If Kate and Chris are watching, I’m sorry, but your mom and I, you can’t help but start thinking about grandkids. They’re going to get married in 2019, so it’s possible we could have grandkids in 2020. Can you believe that? No pressure.
But if you’re born in 2020, then you’re the high school class of 2038. If they work as long as I have, then they’re going to be in the work force until about 2080. At my current job we have to make sure a couple of things. We have to deter our adversaries today, we have to keep the peace today. But we also have to make sure the world is going to be safe in 2080 so they can live the life that we’ve got to live.
So with my future grandkids, I started thinking about how important STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] is going to be to them. And in the modern age, our very survival depends on discovery, innovation and science. That mindset underpins everything we do, whether it’s in the Department of Defense or industry or NASA business. It underpins everything that we do. I learned that lesson early in life. But like I discussed earlier, after I learned I’d never go into space, I still wanted to be in the space business. I wanted to build rockets like my dad. I wanted to become an engineer. So I really got after math and science.
And when I was a senior at Grissom I had taken all the math courses and Ms. Spellman taught me all that I needed to do. All that stuff happened because of the passion that I had, but because people cared about science, technology, engineering and math and they helped me learn that.
So I hope it’s not a shock to people in this crowd that STEM is mainstream now. It is not sideways. If you look at the numbers, there are nine million STEM workers in the United States, six percent of all workers. They earn 12 percent more than non-STEM degrees. I think the geek is the high school quarterback of this century. I really do. I think it’s that different.
When you think about who the cool kids are, the cool kids are becoming the geeks. And I tell you, never has our society, our vital national interests been so intertwined with science, technology and moving fast. And I can tell you this, my command shuts down without a steady flow of STEM-focused people. Without those bright, scientific minds, we can’t protect the nation. We can’t run the operating systems. We can’t deter the enemy in seven mission areas. In short, we can’t do our job.
And I can’t stress enough the importance of basic research in what we do. Our country has taken our eye off the importance of basic research. We in the Department of Defense have said basic research has to be tied to major programs of record. I can tell you, that’s not where the next great idea is going to come from. The next idea is going to come from basic research and people looking at research, so we have to separate that out. We have to put money against it again. And I can tell you, I will be advocating as hard as I can with my leadership and Congress to put basic research back in the forefront of where we live because that’s where the next great ideas are going to come from.
Just think about all the inventions in the last two centuries. How many of those inventions came out of a program of record? Electricity, the automobile, airplane, telephone, rockets, satellites, computers. If you want to know what came out of a program of record, look at the spinoffs that came from those pieces: artificial limbs, robotics, anti-icing on aircraft, safety grooves in concrete, cordless technology. They all came out of inventions that didn’t come from programs. They came out of something that said we’re going to do something different. We’re going to look at the world differently. So we need to realize that this environment we work in, this environment that we love so much, this environment that’s changed the world, this environment is being threatened, and that’s where my job comes in. That’s where my command’s job comes in.
For decades it was thought the enemy could only cause this nation massive damage through the use of nuclear weapons. That’s no longer the case. It can happen in space. It can even happen in cyberspace. But like the use of nuclear weapons, we want to make sure that never happens. That means we have to be ready for when it does. If we’re ready, then our adversaries won’t go there. And over the years we’ve watched space transition from a guarantor of national security to a ubiquitous presence in everyday life. Everything that we do. So our space capabilities have to be defended.
What does that mean? A quick example. We’re shifting from exquisite platforms, big satellites packed carefully on expensive launch vehicles, to new wrist-powered capabilities, smaller capabilities launched from commercial viable outlets at lower cost because that will change what our adversaries have to think about.
During the last century and most of this one, space was an uncontested area. It was a benign environment. We treated satellites like we treated the U-2 spy plane back in the late 1950s. When a U-2 flew over the Soviet Union it was untouchable for all of four years. And then an SA2 [Soviet air-defense system] shot down Francis Gary Powers and no longer was that safe.
And so we went to space. We went to space and Gen. Schriever and a bunch of people out in California built the CORONA Spy Satellite program. That was a safe haven for a long time. Then we had another wakeup call in 2007 when the Chinese shot down their own weather satellite, showing that they could shoot down our most valuable satellites. And then the Russians two years later said they’re reinvigorating their anti-satellite capabilities as well.
Now I worked on the American anti-satellite programs, most of the Air Force and the Army programs. I can tell you when we shot down a satellite in 1985, we were shocked at the debris we created. That is not the way we wanted to do business. But we have adversaries that are threatening us right now and with direct threats to our space assets – you have to imagine, why couldn’t we put that ingenuity to use for something else? But our adversaries get a vote.
This is not the world I wish it was. This is the world that is. The world that is has threats to our space capabilities. And because it has threats to our space capabilities, we have to be willing to do something about it.
When we have adversaries in China and Russia that declare openly in their doctrine that they’re going to build weapons to destroy our capabilities and to take that advantage away from us, we have to do something about it. So we’re going to change.
We’re going to change the way we look at space. We’re going to look at space and we’re going to define our future, and we’re going to treat space like a warfighting environment.
But people ask me, how do you avoid a war that goes into space? The answer is actually, you don’t. You avoid a war. There’s actually no such thing as war in space. There’s just war. Space is a place. Space is a magical, wonderful place and people conduct operations in space, and we do too. But we have adversaries that are building capabilities to deny us the use of space so we have to make it impossible for them to do that.
So we’re going to build different systems and different ways of doing business, and we’re going to build operators that think about space as a warfighting domain so that every adversary that looks at us will not try to contest us in that area because if they do, they realize they will lose and that will prevent war from extending into space.
So we’re taking specific actions to ensure that any harmful interference or attack upon a critical component of our space architecture will be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner and domain of our choosing. That’s what our current national defense strategy says.
And with countries deliberately building systems to destroy, degrade and disrupt our space assets, we’re going to put a priority on building new and more resilient capabilities and abilities to defend ourselves.
So to boil it down to gut truth, space, operations and space superiority is not an American birthright. Russia and China are both challenging those plans and our actions. That’s why the space mission in the military is a top priority. The amazing people I work with at STRATCOM work every day to detect and attribute aggressive actions.
I don’t belong on the same stage as the people that stood here before me, but I represent a group of people that are coming to work every day to make sure that we defend this nation and that we can protect the space environment so that our kids and our grandkids can look up and see it different.
In closing, let me just point out that these are exciting times to be in the space business. If you think about what’s going on in SpaceX, in Blue Origin, in NASA, in the Air Force, in small companies, in planning, it’s just remarkable the things that are happening. I’ve never seen a time like this.
But now we have to take the next step forward. We have to push back. We have to all support NASA in their desire to move back out into space with humans. Our nation’s leadership is aligned like I’ve never seen before, from the White House to Congress to NASA to the Pentagon, across the government. It is a great thing to see, but we have to take advantage of it. Now is the time.
Science is an exciting field of study, and space is still a place where it happens in amazing ways. And the big dreams and amazing innovations of the ‘60s and ‘70s were only the beginning. We’re taking action to ensure the benefits we get from space are protected and will continue for future generations.
That’s really all I wanted to share with you tonight. It is an amazing honor to be here. With dreams we can make our own history.
So thank you for supporting the Smithsonian. Thank you for supporting the Air and Space Museum. Bring your kids, bring your grandkids, because this place inspires future generations. But this place pales in comparison to what we can do if we actually move back into space again.
So future generations, as you saw in the beginning of that great video, can look up and dream just like a kid from Alabama.
Thanks for your attention, and I have time for a few questions.
Moderator: Thank you, General. That was amazing and we do have time for some questions. I’m just going to be repeating the questions so that they can go onto the video recording.
Q: On the emblem that was on the screen behind you for STRATCOM, the gauntlet had rivets of two different colors. I was wondering if that has any particular significance.
Moderator: The question was just on the emblem we saw before, the gauntlet riveting of two different colors, and we want to know the significance.
Gen. Hyten: The interesting thing about that logo, that motto, is it dates back to Strategic Air Command.
I’ll talk about another thing that was on that chart as you looked at it. If you noticed, there’s the iron fist and the olive branch. The rivets are blood and peace. You want to get the full fist, we’ll bring the bad things to you, but if you want peace, you can have the other side.
And the other piece when you look at it is you – look down at the bottom and you see the motto, most of you can see it. Some in the front row can’t see it. The motto that we brought back, because it’s the motto of Strategic Air Command.
But if you want to see Strategic Air Command, it’s not in Nebraska. It’s at Barksdale Air Force Base in Air Force Global Strike Command.
But our legacy is Strategic Air Command. So the motto we brought back is “Peace is Our Profession.” And the story that goes with that motto – it’s a legend but I tell it as fact because I’m the commander so I can – is that when Curtis LeMay first heard that motto – he didn’t create it – when he heard that motto the first time, he said, “That motto’s perfect. That’s exactly what we do.”
But you need to put three dots at the end. The three dots at the end meaning if you cross the line, we will come in a way you never want to experience.
So as you come around the command, you’ll see the motto, which is based on the motto of Strategic Air Command, and you’ll see “Peace is Our Profession” is back, because we do want peace. But the dot, dot, dot there is to remind you that we are ready every day if you cross that line. Because if we are ready every day and our adversaries know that, I don’t believe they’ll ever cross the line.
I hope that answers your question.
Question: A question about we need to return to space, or NASA needs to return into space. The president has recently talked about creating a Space Corps involving missions in NASA and the military have been confined very well. Do you think that in the future, our future is more technological in space? Or is it more military?
Moderator: The question is on the fact that it’s been recently discussed the formation of a Space Corps, and is the future for humans in space, there’s always been a separation between military space and civilian space, so what does the future look like? More technological, more human, more exploration?
Gen. Hyten: As I look at it, I said once famously or infamously, depending on your perspective, that I’m not NASA. That was in a 60 Minutes episode and man, that came back to haunt me many times because it’s on T-shirts now. But we are not NASA. We are the United States military. The purpose of the military is to defend this nation. That’s what we have to do.
But we have an amazing partnership with NASA, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the leadership of this country, including the leadership of NASA. Both Charlie Bolden in the last administration; Jim Briden – it’s hard to say Jim Bridenstine, it was Congressman Bridenstine for so long – but Jim Bridenstine now. They both understand that there is a critical role that we have to play, and we have to partner in how to do that.
But I want the nation, I want humans to go back into space. I don’t think it’s going to be for a long time. I’ve joked in the past that when we go into space as humans it will be on X-wing fighters. That will actually happen someday. And when that happens, that day will be different.
But the President has talked about space as a warfighting domain. The Congress has talked about space as a warfighting domain. My leadership, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have talked about space as a warfighting domain. We have to treat it that way. Not because we want war in space, but because we don’t. And if we don’t treat it that way, war will move into space and we won’t be able to deal with it.
So where we’re going, that’s going to be a discussion with the Congress, with the administration, but the great news is everybody is aligned on what the issues are and what we have to do to prevent that. That’s the good news.
Q: You mentioned that our adversaries are being more aggressive with anti-satellite technology. Can you talk about strategy for dealing with that?
Moderator: The question is on dealing with the fact that our adversaries are becoming more aggressive with anti-satellite technology.
Gen. Hyten: The interesting thing is, walk around this museum. You’ll see what we’re going to do in space. But not by walking around Apollo and SkyLab and the shuttle and Discover. Walk around the beginnings of the aviation business in this because what we do in the aviation business – in the aviation business when we started out – what did we build airplanes for? Reconnaissance, communications. And then somebody put a bomb on an open cockpit airplane and dropped it and changed everything. Then somebody put a gun on an airplane to make sure that the pilot with the bomb couldn’t drop the plane. You can see that history as you walk through this.
So what do we do when we’re dealing with that environment? Did we want air to become unusable for the world? No, we wanted air to be useable for everybody. That’s how we get around the planet today. But we figured out we have to defend ourselves. How do we defend ourselves? We built more maneuverable aircraft. We built defensive systems on aircraft. We built ways to defend ourselves. That’s exactly what we’re going to do in space.
I’m not going to tell you in this room exactly what we’re doing because that would kind of defeat the purpose. But just walk around this museum and you’ll see all the things we’re going to do because it is the same problem we faced in the air a century ago. And now we have to figure out how to do it in space.
And we always have to have that other piece, because as bad as a shoot-down is in the air and as an airman I’ve seen that. My friend, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, was shot down and picked up. As bad as that is, that plane has long been cleaned up. He’s back with his family. Everything is good.
But if you create debris in space, it is there for a long time. And if it’s high enough, it’s there forever. We don’t want to go down that path, so we’ve got to figure out how to defend ourselves without creating debris. How to threaten, how to make sure our adversaries when they threaten us know that they won’t work. So it’s all the same things we went through in the air.
Q: In the past you’ve advocated for the declassifications of military space programs, and I wanted to ask about why is it important to declassify what’s going on in space and what do you project as concrete steps towards ending over-classification?
Moderator: The question is on the classification of space programs. The general has advocated maybe we need to look at that and so the question is around how do we decide what to declassify or not.
Gen. Hyten: I’ll just make it simple. Do we keep our Minuteman ICBMs classified? Do we keep our bombers classified? Do we keep our submarines classified? No, there are elements of those. I mean nobody knows where our submarines are right now. I don’t even know where the submarines are right now, but I know the general area. But we have all kinds of classification things. Is the B-2 bomber classified? No. Are there classified capabilities on it? Absolutely.
What do we deter with in space? And I’d just say that you can’t deter if everything’s in the black. So that means we have to decide as a nation, and this is something we’ll work over the coming years. It’s not an urgent issue right now. We have plenty of time to work it, but we have to decide how we’re going to deter our adversaries, and that means you have to decide what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say that. And we haven’t decided yet as a nation. And that’s not my job. My job is to give input into that, but that will be a political decision for the President and the Congress together to decide what is that going to be, and it will eventually show up in the budget. The President will sign a budget, and people will see it and then we’ll talk about it and we’ll go down that path.
My first job, my first priority at STRATCOM, above all else, we will provide a strategic deterrent. And that means in all domains we operate in, and it starts with the nuclear capability but it also involves space. So we have to decide how we’re going to deter in space. That’s why that is an important topic of conversation.
Q: First, I want to thank you, it’s an honor for us all to be in the same space, time and continuum with you. I have just two brief questions. First, is there a division within STRATCOM that is concerned with space weather, specifically the coronal mass ejections. And a second question is, since you care about education and [inaudible] I’m with the Catholic University Physics Department, and we are starting a space weapons program. And I was wondering if there is any way universities can affiliate ourselves with STRATCOM?
Moderator: A question about STRATCOM and space weather, and then about universities working with STRATCOM.
Gen. Hyten: I’m probably one of the biggest customers of space weather of all the combatant commands. There’s ten combatant commands. They all depend on space weather, believe it or not. When I was deployed in 2006 in the Middle East, I famously, because I’m a space guy so I actually understand space weather and I can explain it, but the poor lieutenant who had to brief the weather every day, the last part of his briefing to the three-star was space weather. And the three-star was not in country when I first got there, and this poor lieutenant, I would try to explain to him what it really meant and why it was important, and he would stand up and he’d dork it up every day.
So I finally said just pull it out because nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about. Just pull it out. So he pulled it out, and everything the next few days was fine, and then the three-star showed up. That was Lt. Gen. Gary North, who’s subsequently been commander of Pacific Air Forces as a four-star. He got to the weather brief, the weather guy stands up and he briefs space weather, or he doesn’t -- he briefs the weather but he skips space weather because I told him to pull it out, and [Lt.] Gen. North just about threw a conniption, and said where’s my space weather brief? The lieutenant now is dying. I stand up and say I told him to pull it out, and he started screaming at me and then he gave the most brilliant speech that explained to everybody why space weather was so important. Because it could impact his communications, it could impact his navigation, it could impact all those kind of things, and he went through the whole detail, better than I probably could have, and I realized, oh my gosh, everything’s different.
So as the commander of STRATCOM, I get a space weather brief every day. My space component, Gen. Jay Raymond, my Joint Force Space Component commander, is responsible for pulling a lot of that together.
So the partnership you need to have is with the space component under STRATCOM, which is in Colorado Springs.
The actual information that comes out of the weather squadron also happens to be at Offutt, but space weather is critical. So there’s a great partnership that you can build, and STRATCOM is a great entry point because we touch all those pieces.
Q: You shared a lot about your upbringing and the direction of the path you took. Two different paths being MIT or Harvard. I’m curious in regards to being an astronaut or engineering or the space program, obviously both of those are a lot in the space program [inaudible]. Can you talk about why you decided to go into engineering instead of [inaudible]?
Moderator: The question is you shared a lot of your interests growing up, going to Harvard, going to MIT, engineering, space program, physics. How did you come to settle on where you ended up?
Gen. Hyten: I used to give this really beautiful, complicated story that I had rationalized in my head over the years about why I decided to do that. Because in reality, if I’m an engineer, going to MIT probably would have worked out better. Actually, it worked out ok. I’m all right. But my dad went to Harvard. He would have been the Class of 1957. In 1956 he ran out of money and he had to leave and go home and go to work, and he never finished his degree. And I tell you, that day in 1981 when I walked across the stage and received my degree was, my dad, all six-foot-seven, 350 pounds of him, was crying. That’s really why I ended up at Harvard. And I used to talk about why Harvard this and why MIT this and that. It was all because of my dad. I kind of wanted to finish what he started and couldn’t finish. That’s where I ended up.
Q: First of all, thank you so much for your inspiring words and sharing your story and your past about space. Thank you so much for your service to our country.
We are at an interesting and unique time in our country’s history for many reasons. We find ourselves at a time where we have reinvigorated passion for going back to space, but also at a time where math and science are constantly under attack. Do you as a scientist and as somebody responsible for the lives of, as you said, 160,000 members of your service, recognize the importance of not only motivation and inspiration but also getting the facts, and how important this is to America’s future?
My question is, yes, it’s important to a degree – I think that’s critical. But if you could also speak to the importance of getting the details right and knowing facts as we pursue a new age in space travel. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. Thank you so much.
Moderator: And I will say the questioner, like many of the questioners that I have, in the interest of shortening the questions, have left off and that is constantly thanking you for your service, for your presence here tonight. So I’m going to repeat that part.
Then the next part was on facts that roll into decision-making – the importance that you place on that.
Gen. Hyten: I think one of the reasons I’m still in the Air Force after 37 years of active duty – 37 years next week. Of all the things I’d get applause for, I didn’t think that was going to be it. That just means I’m old.
I work in an institution, the United States military, where facts are the only things that matter. If you don’t get the facts right, people can die.
You don’t ever tell an untruth. I think one of the reasons I’m actually here today is because as a colonel I was in a position, and I won’t tell you the whole story, but I was in a position where it was a very difficult situation. I knew what the truth was. Nobody else knew what the truth was. And then when I told the truth, nobody believed me. But I had been taught in this institution, been taught by my family, is that if you know the truth, there’s only one story to tell, and that’s the truth.
The funny thing about the truth is it always comes out. Always. Sometimes it just takes a while. And I can tell you that was the longest two months of my life. But it came out. And then once people found out I was telling the truth, all of a sudden I went from quote/unquote, “the devil incarnate”, not good, to man, he actually knows something about this business.
And that’s just the nature of our institution. I have a new military aide down here, a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. One of the reasons I hired her is because I trust her implicitly, not just with me, but with my family. And when you’re in a business where the ultimate measure of business is life and death, then truth is the only choice. Like I said, if you don’t tell the truth, people can die. We can’t allow that to happen.
So I love wearing this uniform every day. Some days are hard days, some days are good days, but in the overarching view of my entire career, I get to work with the best people in the world.
And I’ll just close with a quote from my son. It’s one of my favorite quotes by a great American, Christopher Joseph Hyten, who looked at me five years ago and he said, “Dad, I’ve been watching you ever since you made general. And you know what? You don’t do any real work anymore.” Then he followed it up with, “You just have people.”
That kind of torqued me off, actually. Because I feel like I work pretty hard, but the more I thought about it, the more right he is. I don’t do any of the real work. None. I haven’t for a decade. The people I work with do the real work. And if I’m going to lead them they have to trust me implicitly because when I tell them something to do, I have to explain why. I have to do all the things that are required of any leader, but they have to trust me and then they have to execute that mission. That trust is what makes my chosen profession special.
So thank you very much for being here.
Moderator: Thank you so much, and you see from that well-deserved standing ovation how much the audience appreciates your service and really appreciates what you’ve shared with us here tonight.