For years the nickname ``Space City'' has referred to Houston, thanks to the space-related community that has grown up there around the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Johnson Space Center. In the future, however, Houston may have to share the title with Colorado Springs. This city of 350,000 at the base of Pikes Peak is emerging as the focal point of the US military's growing space effort.
Last September, President Reagan announced creation of the United States Space Command, and named this city as its headquarters. The command coordinates the space operations, such as satellite communications, weather forecasting, navigation, and attack warning, of all the military branches.
The city was the logical site for the new unified command, since it already serves as home to the Air Force Space Command and the Consolidated Space Operations Center, or ``CSOC,'' a billion-dollar space communications center being built east of the city. In addition to uniting the military's satellite operations, CSOC will include a shuttle operations and planning complex.
The US Space Command is also charged with developing the military's consensus on the country's ballistic missile defense and space systems requirements. This task is expected to bring additional billions in economic activity to Colorado Springs, as research intensifies on President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
Some cities might have balked at such an infusion of military activity, especially when it is concentrated in an area as controversial as military space development. But Colorado Springs, which already depends directly or indirectly on the military for more than one-third of its jobs, and which is home to more than its share of retired military brass, appears to be embracing the new activity with enthusiasm.
``SDI may be controversial, but it's not very controversial here in Colorado Springs,'' says James Tracey, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Adds Alfred Uhalt, manager of Rockwell International's office here, ``You don't hear much quarrel when they call Colorado Springs the military space capital of the world.''
The city is in the running for the SDI national test facility, a giant modeling computer bank that would simulate tracking in space, and that will constitute the largest programming effort ever attempted. It would mean 1,500 to 2,000 jobs, estimates James Devine, the director of the city's economic development council.
Rockwell's office, a marketing operation for the company's space transportation systems division, opened here along with dozens of other defense contractors shortly after the Air Force Space Command was created in 1983. Since then, and even as Colorado's high-tech industry on the whole has stagnated, the defense-related high-tech industries of Colorado Springs have boomed.
``The Springs is the one bright spot in Colorado's economy right now,'' says Barry Poulson, chairman of the economics department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. ``That's pretty much the result of the military and space development.''
Growth of the aerospace-related private sector should continue as the Space Command expands to fulfill its responsibilities.
``About 38 percent of the command's operations will be supported by private contractors,'' notes Col. Art Forster, Space Command director of public affairs. ``And given its missions, it will obviously be a heavy consumer of software and hardware.''
This month Texas Instruments, which recently closed some of its consumer-products operations in Texas, announced plans for a 133-acre engineering complex to expand its military electronics operations here.
There is some concern that Colorado Springs could be setting itself up for future economic hardship by placing too many eggs in the military basket. But many people here voice a conviction that the military undoubtedly is in space to stay. They also observe that any decision to scuttle SDI will come only after substantial research investment.
Local observers have pinpointed a dearth of higher education opportunities and research facilities as one weakness that could curtail Colorado Springs's potential for space-related development. But according to educator Tracey, the city is beginning to meet that shortfall.
His school is located in a new building with ``absolutely state-of-the-art laboratories,'' he says. The school focuses on four specializations: microelectronics, computer-aided design, software engineering, and space systems engineering.
``Those are the areas we wanted to concentrate on,'' says Mr. Tracey, ``because those are the areas related to future development in Colorado Springs.'' Already offering master's level programs, the school now awaits the state higher education board's approval of doctoral programs. Tracey says he wants to foster the kind of public-private partnerships that gave high-tech development its start in Boston and California's Silicon Valley.
The city is also home to the US Space Foundation, formed in 1983 to encourage awareness of space opportunities and to involve the public and private sectors in a national dialogue on space.
Space-related public-private partnerships in Colorade Springs could receive a boost if High Frontier, a Washington-based organization promoting military and commercial applications of space, chooses the city as the site for its ``international space academy.'' Retired Army Gen. Daniel Graham, director of High Frontier and one of SDI's principal advocates, has proposed the academy as a graduate school that would specialize in space development.
According to Roop Mohunlall, project director for the proposed academy, Colorado Springs is a ``high priority'' on the site selection list in part because of the space-related military operations and private companies already in place, but also because of the city's ``pro-growth, pro-military attitudes.''
For all these developments, most observers here believe Houston has little to worry about. ``Space development isn't going to happen in just one place,'' Mr. Uhalt says, ``so you'll see a synergism where the two cities will help each other.''