James David’s father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, so after obtaining his law degree, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and enlist. “I was in the JAG corps,” David jokes, “so no one’s going to give me a ship to drive.” After attending the Naval Justice School, he became a Judge Advocate General; he spent the next 20 years providing service members and their families with legal advice on a wide range of topics.
He came to the Museum as a curator in 1990, in the space history division. Among the artifacts he curates are a few from the GRAB-1 and Corona spy satelites. The Naval Research Laboratory built GRAB; it first launched in 1960, as part of a program designed to gather data on Soviet air defense radars, among other things. Corona was developed by the Air Force and the CIA, and was designed to obtain imagery of the Soviet Union that the U-2 spyplane couldn’t provide. Both programs were declassified in the late 1990s.
As a curator, David would love to acquire hardware from either the Hexagon or Gambit spy satellites, both National Reconnaissance Office projects that were declassified less than two months ago. Hexagon replaced Corona as a broad-area search satellite, while Gambit imaged small swaths of the Earth at very high resolutions. “You want to know the size of the wing on a MiG aircraft?” says David, “Or the thickness of a missile silo wall the Soviets are constructing? You did that with Gambit.”
David is photographed with the KH-4B, the last and most advanced camera system used in Project Corona. The Corona film return capsule is on display in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.