EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Born in Yuma, AZ on 27 February 1940, retired Lt Col Ken Needham is a 3rd generation native Arizonan. His mother (1911) and her father (1880) were born in Yuma as well, in the same house. Ken’s mother’s family was one of the pioneering families in a remote part of the country starting in the mid-1800s. Arizona became a state in 1912, a year after Ken’s mother was born. Ken’s father was born in North Dakota, and eventually made his way to Arizona after living in California and Texas. The Needhams were part of a well-known family in the small town, population 15,000 and Ken attended the same high school as his mother, grandfather, and numerous other relatives.
Ken left for college in 1957 and attended the University of AZ on a football scholarship. But he had dreams of flying and excelled academically and gained admittance to the new Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs a year later.
An ‘Outstanding Lineman’ and top 15% of his class, Ken graduated in 1962 and was sent to pilot training. Ken did not finish pilot training, but was instead sent to the Air Force Institute of Technology for the Graduate Astronautics program.
The AF developed this tailored program to grow a small contingency specifically for the Air Force’s new focus on space defense needs. Ken was sent to the 1st Aersospace Squadron (1ACS) at Ent AFB, Colorado Springs, CO in 1965. In 1968, he volunteered for duty in Vietnam and went to the Joint Headquarters to serve as an Operations Research analyst, followed by an assignment at the Air Force Academy where he taught Math for 4 years. After a two year tour supporting Strategic Air Command’s Titan Missile Wing, Ken was again tapped to help advance the Air Force’s growing presence in space and served the rest of his AF career with the AF Space Division in El Segundo, CA where he retired in 1982. Ken began a second career as a Department of Defense contractor with various Aerospace Engineering companies supporting the development of space programs such as the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) within the Air Force Space Command.
IMPACT ON SPACE COMMAND
Recognized early on for his technical acumen, the Air Force intentionally selected Ken to pioneer the new Graduate Astrophysics track at AFIT. He had two fellow GA-65 graduates, also hand-picked to grow this area, which included Capt Eric Nelson and 1st Tom Lange, who upon graduation were assigned along with Ken to the 1ACS in Colorado Springs to address the satellite orbital analysis needs of the newly deployed Space Track System. His work on the Titan program and within the Advanced Space Technology division program office of Air Force Systems Command led to his work on developing components for spacecraft and research for fine tuning on orbit operations of the AF’s newest communication satellites. Then the AF Space Command stood up in 1982, the same year Ken retired from military duty; but the Command pulled him in as a civilian contractor to assist in directing satellite technology support builds within the newly established command.