News: ‘We only get stronger as time goes on’: Florida Air Guard unit participates in civilian Falcon 9 rocket launch
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – From where Master Sgt. Gregory Jones stands he is able to see the future.
The Florida National Guard Airman walks through a light drizzle along abandoned and crumbling launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, June 8. These are places where Atlas and Titan rockets once thundered into space, carrying astronauts like Alan Shepard and John Glenn. This was where projects like Mercury and Gemini kept America on the cutting edge of the Space Race in the 1960s.
Jones, a flight chief with the 114th Range Operations Squadron, stops at Launch Pad 34 – where the Apollo 1 disaster occurred in February 1967 – and points to the north. Four towers and a modern rocket gantry are visible in the humid Florida haze. That is the future of manned space flight, he says.
And that is the future of the Florida Air National Guard.
On May 22 the launch of Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral marked the first time a private company sent a capsule to the International Space Station. The successful launch was hailed as historic, marking the beginning of an era for privately funded companies to carry out space missions for NASA.
Guardsmen from the Florida Air National Guard’s 114th ROPS supported the mission, working with active duty counterparts at the 45th Space Wing to ensure the rocket launch didn’t pose a threat to public safety. That support included monitoring aircraft and boats that stray too close to the Cape during the launch.
During the Falcon 9 launch Jones sat “on console” at the Morrell Operations Center at the Cape as the sea-surveillance officer, monitoring a swath of ocean under the flight path of the rocket. If a boat or aircraft wandered into the safety zone or restricted airspace, he would coordinate Coast Guard and security aircraft to assist the craft to a safer area until after the launch.
“It was an amazing opportunity for the space coast and those of us in the Florida National Guard,” Jones said. “I’m proud of our involvement with it.”
Master Sgt. Mark Farmer, who was the lead aerospace control officer during the Falcon 9 launch, said he knew the morning of the launch that it would be an historic event.
“I told my wife: ‘We are about to make history. The Guard and the 114th are about to make history for the future of manned missions,’” he said. “It’s a little surreal. I’ve been here for the shuttle missions, including the last shuttle mission, but I see the future coming.”
Jones, Farmer and other members of the 114th ROPS hope the future is bright for the Guardsmen at the Cape, particularly since the unit faced possible elimination as part of proposed budget cuts earlier this year. But the airmen feel that the National Guard is still a perfect fit with the space program.
According to Jones, who has been in the 114th since 1997, the National Guard experience levels with space launches are often greater than active duty counterparts because the Guardsmen typically stay in their unit longer and have performed more missions.
“That is really what we hang our hat on here, as opposed to our active duty brethren that have maybe a year or two years of experience,” Jones explained. “The reason this is significant is we’ve seen and experienced a lot of the things that can happen during a launch.”
Jones served as an active duty airmen before joining the 114th, and estimates he’s participated in about 125 space launches during his career.
Farmer, who has been in the 114th since 2007, echoed Jones’ thoughts about the units’ experience levels: “A lot of us Guard individuals come from different backgrounds, and the main ingredients that we bring to the table are continuity and expertise…that’s why it is a perfect mission for the Guard.”
Tech. Sgt. Jayson Moats, another 114th aerospace control officer who has been in the unit for five years, said he really hopes the 114th’s presence at the Cape will increase with each launch of new rockets like the Falcon 9.
“We only get stronger as time goes on,” he said.
During the Falcon 9 launch, May 22, Moats was stationed at a boat dock near Cape Canaveral, ensuring fishermen and boaters were aware of the launch and wouldn’t stray into the safety zone. Moats stood next to the cheering fisherman as the rocket lifted into the pre-dawn sky.
“I had goosebumps…that was history in the making,” he said. “I think back to those guys that watched the very first shuttle go up and they probably felt the same way.”
The 114th was created in 1989 to provide communications capabilities, and in the mid-1990s transitioned to space launch operations in support of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach, Fla. The unit provides support for Atlas, Delta and Titan rocket launches, and last year assisted in the final mission of the Space Shuttle program. There are more than 110 airmen – both full time and traditional Guardsmen – assigned to the unit.
Date Posted:06.18.2012 14:26
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