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News | May 28, 2021

“The Dish” sits down with NRO Pioneer Sam Araki

By Staff

The NRO Office of Public Affairs, in coordination with NRO’s Asian Pacific American Network (NAPAN), held a teleconference with NRO Pioneer Minoru “Sam” Araki for Asian American Pacific Islander Month (AAPI).

Araki discusses the struggles he faced in his early life, his stance on current events, his newest article “The 4C1000 Seven Tenets for the 21st Century – The Innovation Secret at the National Reconnaissance Office and Silicon Valley,” and his career in national reconnaissance.

Araki was born July 12, 1931 in Saratoga, California. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent forced evacuations of Japanese-Americans from the U.S. West Coast, Araki’s family successfully evaded FBI authorities that were attempting to relocate them to an internment camp. Six months later, the Araki family voluntarily entered the Poston camp in Arizona, where they lived until the war ended.

Araki graduated from Stanford University with Bachelors and Masters of Science in Mechanical in 1954 and 1955. He joined Lockheed Missile and Space Company in 1958 where he provided system integration on the Corona program. During his tenure with Lockheed, Araki pioneered the development of the Agena spacecraft, the launch vehicle on the upper stage camera platform for the Corona, the first imagery satellite. The Agena, which made photoreconnaissance possible, was flown by the NRO, U.S. military, and NASA on more than 500 missions. The Corona provided eyes over the Soviet Union from 1960 to 1972.

Araki also played a key role in the Hubble Space Telescope program; the Iridium Program–Motorola’s first all-space cell phone communication network–which was important following Hurricane Katrina; the Milstar Program, the first global secure digital communication satellite system with onboard routers and satellite-to-satellite cross links; and several other programs. 

After 38 years of contributing to the NRO, Araki retired as president of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space Company in 1997. In 2004, Former NRO Director Peter B. Teets named Araki a Pioneer—one of the highest recognitions of national reconnaissance—for his accomplishments on the Agena. Araki, along with four others who contributed to the Corona program, also received the National Academy for Engineering’s Charles Stark Draper Prize for engineering accomplishments that benefit society.

Araki is a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society, a member of the National Academy of engineering, and received the von Braun Award for Excellence in Space Program Management from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He continues his involvement with national reconnaissance as Chief Executive Officer of St. –Infonox, Inc.

Listen to Araki’s story in a discussion led by Sam Mackin of NAPAN on the @NatReconOfc AAPI episode of “The Dish: Behind the Scenes at NRO” on SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts. To read “Seven Tenets” please click here.