Come Fly with Us by Melvin Croft & John Youskauskas

Come Fly with Us by Melvin Croft & John Youskauskas

Author:Melvin Croft & John Youskauskas
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: HIS036060 History / United States / 20th Century
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska


26. NASA astronaut Jack Fischer (left) with MSE Eric Sundberg. The two met when Fischer was a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and they became lifelong friends. Fischer would launch on his first mission to the International Space Station in April of 2017, accumulating more than 135 days in space and nearly six hours of EVA time over two space walks. Courtesy Eric Sundberg.

One project from Payton’s NASA days did prove successful, though—the X-37A would be transferred from NASA to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 2004 and would lead to orbital flight tests and the eventual X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, the air force’s own version that is still in use today. A smaller-scale unmanned space plane design, the winged vehicle has conducted several top secret missions in orbit, one of which notably lasted nearly 718 days before gliding to an automatic landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in May 2017.

In 2005 Payton was named deputy undersecretary of the air force for space programs. Reporting directly to the secretary of the air force, he recalls these days as “Mr. Space” at the Pentagon as some of his most rewarding: “I got in on starting a whole bunch of things, some of which have been successful, some of which are not. The X-37’s one of them. I started it the first time—I was at NASA Headquarters—but then worked on it again when it became an air force project. I also started something called Operational Responsive Space, which was another success. I pushed through the Pentagon bureaucracy on new technology demonstrations on orbit that will be the foundation for the next generation of our missile-warning satellites.”

Today, Payton has returned to the Air Force Academy, where his journey to space began. As an endowed professor in the astronautics department, he teaches classes in human spaceflight, incorporating the lessons of the Challenger and Columbia accidents into a curriculum for a new generation of military aerospace leaders. Payton also mentors engineering cadets in the academy’s FalconSAT Program, in which students design and build small experimental satellites for launch into space. Of his experiences passing the torch to the air force’s newest officer corps, Payton relates that “the highlight of this job has been being asked four times to swear in cadets to their commission into the air force. Seeing these bright-eyed, bushy-tailed brand-new lieutenants march off into the sunset is great.”

Bill Pailes returned to flying the HC-130 after leaving the MSE program in 1987. “The air force for good reason said, ‘You need to go back to flying, you’re a pilot,’” he recalled. “And I couldn’t come up with a good enough reason to not do that.” The rescue birds were being transformed into a Special Operations mission, “flying at very low level on night vision goggles. It was all more secretive,” Pailes said of his new mission.

After a staff assignment to Twenty-Third Air Force headquarters—which became Air Force Special Operations Command during his tour there—and almost a year at the Industrial



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