SAMOS satellite promotional image

Artist impression of a SAMOS photoreconnaissance mission, 1958.

THE NEW BOSTON Satellite Tracking Station was put into operation in 1960, occupying a portion of 2,800-acre tract of land that had comprised the former New Boston Bombing Range. This new technological operation, like the bombing range before it, was associated with Grenier Air Force Base in Manchester (known as Grenier Field).

By 1963 the U.S. Air Force unit operating the station, the 6594th Instrumentation Squadron, had a military personnel strength of more than 350 officers and enlisted men, and it also employed a small civilian support staff and dozens of specialized contractors.

The first mission of the new facility in 1960 was to monitor satellites in the Discoverer Program, which incorporated the CIA’s Corona top secret photo reconnaissance satellite project. In 1961 the station became a vital link in the chain of tracking stations taking part in the U.S. Air Force’s Missile Defense Alarm System (MIDAS) program.

These satellites were engineered to provide early notice of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile launches which would be detected through infrared sensors. The program was coordinated with the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, also an Air Force project. This network of radar towers, and communications and computer systems, was designed to provide early detection of ballistic missile attacks. The MIDAS satellites were invaluable in advancing technological capabilities for use in future defense systems.

In the early 1960s the New Boston Satellite Tracking Station was involved in the Satellite and Missile Observation System (SAMOS) program which, like the Corona project, also employed photography as a spy tool.

During that decade of rapidly evolving satellite capabilities, the New Boston station tracked Vela nuclear surveillance satellites; Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather satellites; and a variety of navigation and communications satellites. The station’s antennas and other equipment were frequently upgraded to keep up with mission changes and advancements in science and engineering.

The officers and airmen of the 6594th became part of the community in Manchester and surrounding towns.

While most of the airmen lived in barracks at Grenier, married men with families and most or all of the officers lived off-base in private housing. In 1960 the station’s commander, Col. Glenn B. Daughton, and his wife were living on North River Road (now River Road) in the north end of Manchester, while his operation’s officer, Lt. Col. Nicholas Polio, lived in Bedford.

These two senior officers became familiar figures with the public as spokespersons. They were generous in presenting talks to local clubs and other organizations, where they would outline their station’s work (without divulging secrets, of course), and present promotional films touting the exciting accomplishments and the limitless promise of the American satellite programs.

The 6594th’s establishment at Grenier occasionally made news for its social activities. On June 2, 1963, for example the New Hampshire Sunday News reported on a picnic hosted by the unit for a chorus of military women earlier that week.

The group of 21 young women was traveling by bus through New Hampshire at the invitation of state Sen. Nelle Holmes of Amherst, who was chairman of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, a Department of Defense civilian advisory commission.

The women were members of the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). They represented nine different naval commands in Washington, D.C. and vicinity, and were quartered in Arlington, Va., where their love of music had brought them together. The amateur group was led by Ensign Joan Stanley, whose regular job involved working with classified documents in the Bureau of Naval Weapons and teaching computer programming.

After the picnic the women traveled to Rindge, 43 miles southwest of Manchester. The women sang at the Memorial Day services on Thursday, May 30, 1963 at the Cathedral of the Pines, a non-denominational memorial site founded in 1946 and dedicated to the memory of the nation’s war dead.

The program that day included the groundbreaking ceremony for the Women’s Memorial Bell Tower. This cobblestone structure would honor the women who had perished in military service during wartime. The tower, completed in 1967, stands today as one of the most evocative features of the beautiful Cathedral of the Pines facility.

Next week: The New Boston Bombing Range—more pieces of the story.

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter

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