Before Radar and Satellites, Civilian Volunteers Watched the Skies

Some of the early practices of the Atomic Age are not only futile, but mildly comical these days. Even the bomb shelter, which many homeowners in the 50s and 60s built in their basements, would be useless in the face of a full-scale nuclear exchange. Long before satellites and before the United States had a national radar system, the government established the Ground Observer Corps (GOS) — a civil defense organization that was a primitive early warning system staffed by citizen volunteers. Towers were built and volunteers manned them in 2-hour shifts to keep an eye on the sky. Unfortunately, the GOS was responsible for more false alarms than actual threat detection. In 1954, the U.S. military established a national radar net and decommissioned the GOS. Still, Americans kept watching the skies, and before long sightings of UFOs spiked and gave people something new to do.