The dramatic, nighttime liftoff of a vital infrared surveillance satellite for the U.S. Air Force on Jan. 20 not only marked the successful culmination of years of preparation by a broad team of government and industry professionals, it also served as an inspiration for one Air Force family.
The first space launch of 2017, marking a year-long celebration of the Air Force’s 70th anniversary, featured the third Space Based Infrared Systems Geosynchronous Earth Orbiting satellite, developed by the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate and its industry partners.
SBIRS GEO Flight-3 soared into space at 7:42 p.m. EST atop an Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Locally, the launch brought “bird watchers” out to the Gordon Conference Center at Los Angeles Air Force base for an SMC Presents Launch and Learn session, hosted by Maj. Dex Landreth, deputy chief of SMC’s Launch Enterprise Directorate’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Mission Management Branch, and Capt. Erik Sorensen, GEO test lead from SMC’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate.
Lt. Col. John Mizell, materiel leader, SBIRS block development at SMC brought his entire family to witness the launch. The family’s dedication for attending back-to-back launch events for the first time in their young children’s lives was rewarded with live coverage of the countdown and liftoff of SBIRS GEO Flight-3 projected on big screen TVs. First Lt. Nick Walton, the GEO transition to operations acceptance project manager from SMC’s Remote Sensing Systems Directorate, provided ‘color’ commentary that made the experience really come to life.
“It was cool! It’s something that I don’t see every day, of course,” said Luke Mizell, the oldest of the four children, who wants to either be a CIA agent or video game designer when he grows up.
“I thought it was awesome,” younger sister Adelyn Mizell chimed in after having some technical parts of the countdown process explained by her mother, Kristen, while middle brother Paden was “excited and happy” to see the rocket take off, sitting alongside his parents and youngest brother, Eli.
“I did not know what my husband’s job and SBIRS did until the ‘60 Minutes’ program aired, featuring Gen. John Hyten, former Air Force Space Command commander,” admitted the mother of four with a laugh. “Of course, I support my husband in his career and all his jobs. I get somewhat concerned for his people more than the job itself sometimes, but I do like knowing enough to be able to explain to our children, and to ask many questions about how this whole thing works.”
Both parents expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to share the launch event with their children on base versus being at home.
“I like the fact that SMC made this a very public event. I think that’s very generous of SMC to do that, and to make this room and these nice big screens available. Kristen and I were talking about how if it was just us at home on the website, it wouldn’t have the same feel. As a father to these kids, the chance to share this with them is pretty unique,” said Mizell.
“At least for us, I think we take it a little more seriously because you never know how much longer you’re going to be in an assignment. What’s going to happen in an assignment?
How many more chances you’re going to get? We could leave SMC, and they won’t get another chance to see this.”
Kristen Mizell noted a personal, historical context as a reason for bringing her children out to observe the launch at SMC.
“I look at it as a neat aspect of the Air Force and being a part of it as a family. I grew up in the Air Force. My dad was a pilot, and it runs deep in my blood. It’s like, ‘Well, of course, of course. This is our life. This is what we want to see!’ It’s cool, and I want my kids to have the same sentiments when the day comes when we are no longer a part of the Air Force family, that they’ll remember how cool it was to be able to come to Daddy’s work and sit and watch on a big screen a rocket launch,” Mizell explained.
“And yes, it was kind of like what Daddy works on, but not really, completely his job, but it’s still cool. This is what our country is doing. This is what L.A. is doing. This is the three- star general our kids refer to when we talk about General Greaves (the SMC commander and Program Executive Officer for Space). ‘Daddy’s going to meet the general today.’ It’s just that we can put it all together for them to understand, because it’s our life.”
Col. Mizell noted a couple of interesting perspectives between his first tour of duty at SMC and his current assignment here.
“Between our two tours, Kristen and I have been here about six and a half years. Of all that time, this is the first launch that we’ve gotten to see that’s been on the program that we worked,” Mizell explained.
“The other thing is, as the ‘Ground Guy,’ it’s neat to know that the ground system that we just delivered a little over a month ago is designed to leverage the capability off these new satellites. Having gotten to see the ground facility out there at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, it’s neat to know we’re helping to increase the capability that the Buckley guys get to work with.”