In August 1960, Lieutenant General Forrest McCartney took the first photographs of the USSR recovered from outer space, ushering in a revolution in intelligence gathering. McCartney was born 23 March 1931 in Fort Payne, Alabama. He received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Auburn, in 1952 and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson AFB in 1955. He first became acquainted with Air Force missile and space programs as a second lieutenant during 1952-1953 when he served on an engineering team that installed some of the original communications systems at Cape Canaveral.
In 1959, he was assigned to the newly formed Air Force Satellite Control Facility in Menlo Park, California, where he became one of the first military satellite controllers. McCartney was on-console when Discoverer XIV snapped the first pictures of the Soviet Union recovered from outer space. After the midair film capsule recovery, the photographs were more than taken in all the previous U-2 flights combined. In 1961, McCartney became project officer for the Titan III booster rocket at Air Force Systems Command. He also had responsibility for Lincoln Laboratories’ communications satellite projects.
Following a series of assignments in space acquisitions, he moved to the Space and Missile Systems Organization at Los Angeles AFS in 1976 to become deputy for space communications systems, with practically all the military communications satellite programs under his purview. In 1979, McCartney transferred to Norton AFB to become the vice commander of the Ballistic Missile Office, where he later became commander and director of the M-X Peacekeeper ICBM Program. In 1982, he was appointed vice commander of Air Force Systems Command’s Space Division.
The following year, he assumed the “dual-hatted” position of commander of Space Division and vice commander of the fledgling Air Force Space Command. In the wake of the Challenger accident, McCartney was loaned from the Air Force to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and appointed director of the Kennedy Space Center. He retired from the Air Force in August 1987, but NASA continued to employ him as Kennedy Space Center director for another four years. After consulting on the flight worthiness of space hardware for two years, he accepted a position in 1994 as the vice president for launch operations at Lockheed Martin Astronautics.
In that capacity, he had responsibility for consolidated launch operations at Cape Canaveral AS and Vandenberg AFB. In 2003, following the Columbia break-up, NASA asked him to join its accident investigation and return-to-flight panels. General McCartney is the recipient of the 1984 Gen. Thomas D. White Space Trophy, the 1993 Goddard Trophy, and the 1987 Military Astronautical Trophy. In 2001, he was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame.