Space and astronomy news and information for the American Southwest. Coverage includes Vandenberg AFB rocket and missile launches.

Vandenberg Aids in Discovery Landing

By A1C Stephen Cadette, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

Reprinted from Air Force Space Command News Service

2005 August 12

VANDENBERG AFB, Calif. – The 30th Space Wing supported the re-entry and landing of the NASA Discovery space shuttle at Edwards AFB, Calif. Tuesday through Western Range operations, 76th Helicopter Flight support and emergency landing availability.

Normally on standby and ready to support a shuttle landing on a moment’s notice, the 2nd Range Operations Squadron supported the landing after weather conditions brought the Western Range up to full operations, said Maj. Pell Thompson, operations officer for the 2nd ROPS.

"This was an important return-to-flight mission," he said. "It was important things proceeded smoothly. We wanted to ensure we provided the support that NASA requested."

The Western Range’s radar and optical tracking instrumentation were the first assets available to track the shuttle as it re-entered the atmosphere, Major Thompson said.

“Manned space flight is a priority for the nation," he said, “and it is a privilege to be a part of it. Lots of people provided support."

More than 50 people from Vandenberg were involved in the Western Range operations, from tracking the shuttle at the different instrumentation sites along the Central Coast, to processing the data coming in from those sites at the Western Range Control Center, and transmitting the data to NASA.

1st Lt. David Rodriguez, a range control officer with 2nd ROPS, pulled his second all-nighter at the WRCC in support of the Discovery’s return.

"We watched over our instrumentation to ensure public safety," he said. "The outcome was flawless; all instrumentation was green."

Also weary after his second night spent in the WRCC, Wesley Fleming, a mission control supervisor with Indyne Inc., was very pleased with the outcome.

“Everybody was enthralled that the space shuttle landed at Edwards," he said. "I’m honored and proud of the part we played in making sure the shuttle returned."

Major Thompson said he was pleased with the cooperation involved in the return of the shuttle.

"This operation demonstrates a big part of the way we operate at Vandenberg," he said. "Range operations is a mix of blue suiters, civilians and contractors who work together to ensure the success of the mission."

Support was also provided by the 76th HF.

"A crew from the 76th Helicopter Flight went to Edwards to provide security and be on standby to lend support in case a contingency arose," Major Thompson said.

Three Team V crewmembers and an aircraft were the primary security for the shuttle, said Maj. Ronald Frantz, 76th HF commander.

"Our crew flew out the day before," Major Frantz said. "Before dawn they flew a support mission to secure the landing range and area within the restricted zone, which encompassed a huge space. They used forward looking infrared to sweep the area."

Maj. Dona Harris, Capt. Steve Katsaris, and Tech. Sgt. Wes Simpson of the 76th HF deemed the area as secure.

"Once we gave the thumbs up, then we went into a standby and acted as backup medical evacuation for any emergency that happened with the shuttle," the major said.

The flightline at Vandenberg was also on standby, Major Thompson said. In the event that the shuttle could not land at Edwards, the flightline here was ready to receive it.

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Copyright © 2005, Brian Webb. All rights reserved.