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4th SLS readies for Atlas V launch

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- 3...2...1... and we have lift off.

Members of the 4th Space Launch Squadron know the feeling of launch day excitement and stress and are currently preparing to get revved up again for the Atlas V launch scheduled for Sept. 13.

"We are a small squadron," said Maj. Joseph Howerton, 4th SLS Atlas V flight commander. "But we have big responsibilities."

The 4th SLS executes Western Range Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle spacelift operations with a combined team of engineers, space operators, program managers and mission assurance technicians.

"Any time someone is touching the rocket we have to have a mission assurance technician from the 4th SLS out there observing operations," said Howerton. "Mission assurance technicians have missile maintenance backgrounds, so they have the hands-on experience to know what to look for."

Airmen are currently engaged in preparations for the Atlas V rocket carrying a National Reconnaissance Office payload into orbit from Space Launch Complex-3 here.

"We are looking good (for launch) from a launch vehicle prospective," said Howerton. "This is one of the cleanest launch vehicles we have seen for Atlas; we have not seen any major issues."

This will be the fifth Atlas V mission for Vandenberg, and Howerton's second mission as the Atlas V flight commander.

"Before launch I have Airmen out at the pad watching the corners of the mobile service tower during roll back," said Howerton. "They are watching the sides of the tower to ensure it is not hitting the launch vehicle, and if anything happens they can troubleshoot."

Technicians from the 4th SLS provide over-the-shoulder support to United Launch Alliance launch contractors on Delta and Atlas flight vehicles.

"On the day of launch we make sure all the preparations are completed on the pad," said Tech. Sgt. Jessie Carter, 4th SLS mission assurance technician. "We roll the building back, clear the site and then they fuel the rocket up while we stay back at a safe distance."

The Atlas V launch vehicle is a medium sized vehicle and can lift up to 30,000 pounds to orbit.

"I think the most exciting part is actually just seeing (the rocket) go," said Carter. "When it gets about half way over the tower you can feel the reverberations from the sound; it is just so loud, amazing and bright."

According to Howerton the Atlas V launch vehicle currently has a 100 percent success rating.

"The Atlas V has an excellent track record and excellent reliability," said Howerton.

Howerton recognizes how the 4th SLS plays a key role in assuring access to space for the joint force and our nation.

"Not many people understand the details of what we do in the 4th. It's kind of cool," said Howerton. "I have a younger brother in the Navy, so the satellites we are launching could somehow protect him and make sure that he doesn't accidentally get put in harm's way. I mean that kind of thing makes me feel pretty good."