Summer program introduces cadets to space

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
The Air Force Academy's summer space program isn't as exciting as, say, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. However, their 10-day program aims to teach cadets how much of their everyday lives and their future military careers rely on the Air Force's space mission.

Few of the rising sophomores are astronautics or space operations majors. And few choose the summer space program but end up enrolled because soaring, parachuting and other summer airmanship programs are already booked solid, said Capt. Donald Heaton, an astronautics instructor here.

The challenge for faculty and summer space program cadre is to turn disinterest into interest.

"It's difficult to find a way to make a topic exciting to somebody who may not have any interest in something I'm so passionate about," said Cadet 2nd Class Rachel Harris, one of the cadre for the summer space program.

But It's worth the effort, said Harris, who is assigned to Cadet Squadron 13.

"This program gives people an opportunity to understand and appreciate a field that is developing and becoming more important with each passing year," she said.

An icebreaker activity designed to familiarize cadets with space is a wargame featuring three fictional, oil-rich African countries as well as spacefaring nations such as the United States, Russia, China and India. Countries' objectives in the scenarios reflect the real world: the developing African nations wanted space capability to grow their economies, while China sought to reclaim Taiwan, and India aimed to prevent any weaponization of space. Space quickly took a back seat to terrestrial matters, however, with a non-nuclear world war breaking out in the game's second round, courtesy of the two cadets playing Russia.

The program hit the road July 15 and Monday with tours of Lockheed Martin's Space Systems Company in Littleton, Colo., and Schriever Air Force Base, east of Colorado Springs.


Twenty-nine cadets settled onto a blue and white bus with an onboard GPS receiver. The bus rolled out at 8 a.m., with the GPS guiding the driver, in a British accent, along Interstate 25, U.S. Highway 85 and other roads along the way.

Roughly an hour later, the bus reached the Lockheed Martin facility, which occupies about 10,000 acres in a valley south of C-470 on Wadsworth Boulevard. Brittney Ardourel briefed the group of cadets about the company's mission.

"Lockheed Martin is really four companies," explained Ardourel, a market research analyst who has worked at the company for about four years. Lockheed Martin comprises aeronautics, electronic systems, information systems and space systems. Its core values -- do what's right, respect others and perform with excellence -- may resonate with Airmen who recognize similarities with their own core values.

The company has a net worth of $45.2 billion and works on both military and civilian space systems, including the Phoenix Mars Lander and the next-generation Orion crew exploration vehicle for NASA and GPS and Advanced EHF satellites for the Air Force. Steve Odiorne, a 1976 Academy graduate, showed off models of some of these systems and passed around a sample of aerogel, which was used aboard the Stardust spacecraft to recover particles from comets in 2006.

Frank Moore guided cadets through the Space Operations Simulator Center, a huge chamber painted black and built atop a 1,700-foot-thick chunk of bedrock. The chamber is designed to conduct full-scale vehicle approach tests using different lighting and movement conditions. Lockheed's SOSC is the only privately owned facility of its type in the country.

"We have to have full-scale tests because laser range finders and optics don't work on scale models," Moore explained. Future missions on the scope included capture and deorbit operations designed to remove space junk from low-Earth orbit.


On Monday, a different bus took cadets eastward, to Schriever AFB. Named after former Gen. Bennie Schriever, the base sits on 640 acres of plains due east of Peterson AFB. It is perhaps the newest Air Force installation, having been activated in 1985 as Falcon Air Force Station.

Col. Stan Stafira, the wing's vice commander, spoke briefly about the wing's mission.

"We basically lay the foundation for whatever the war fighter does, whether it's ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), communications or positioning," said Stafira, whose previous assignments at the base included chief of safety for the wing and chief of wargames and exercises for the Space Innovation and Development Center. "We're ground zero for the next (space or cyberspace) conflict."

Stafira made the case to cadets that, regardless of their major, the Air Force needs the best and brightest to come into the space career field.

"We're on the leading edge of technology, flying the most advanced satellites in the Air Force inventory," he said. "We're moving into a contested-space environment. We need smart people who can help us figure out how to operate in that environment. We need to exchange information faster than the enemy can, and lieutenants who come in now can have an immediate impact on how we do that."

In a separate briefing, Lt. Col. Mike Manor shared a tale with the rising sophomores, whose class color -- red -- is the same as his. Members of the original "red tag" class, he said, had planted trees in the parade field so they wouldn't have to march. He added some words of advice for the cadets: "Have fun where you can, but be smart."

Manor shares another quality with many of the cadets in the summer space program: he was a management major.

"Now I'm in charge of satellites," he said. "Space is amazing, it's evolving. You're right in the fight."