The final countdown

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On December 1, 2008

It’s T-minus zero, and as the main engine ignites, Lt. Col. Scott Peel’s mind begins to race. As commander of the range operations team at Vandenberg Air Force Base, he knows that now there’s no turning back.

The 5,000-pound military satellite, attached to a Delta II-7920 rocket sitting on top of thousands of pounds of highly combustible fuels, leaves the Earth for its journey into space. And now all he can do is watch and wait for the satellite to separate from its booster vehicle.

The Dec. 14, 2006, launch of USA 193 was Peel’s fourth. His three previous launches – an intercontinental ballistic missile test, a missile defense interceptor test and another satellite -had all been successful. But that didn’t lessen the anticipation of this mission. “Launching extremely expensive, unique or one-of-a-kind satellites is far from routine,” says Peel, EMgt’89. “It is the most stressful thing I’ve ever helped do, but it is also exhilarating and rewarding.”

Only after all stages have fired is the immense pressure, built by each successive “go” call, replaced by euphoria for the range team, says Peel.
“The ability to declare ‘mission success’ can take weeks or months depending upon the type of mission,” Peel explains.

“Only after all stages have fired is the immense pressure, built by each successive “go” call, replaced by euphoria for the range team.”

Fourteen months later, in a strange twist of fate, another Missouri S&T grad, Andrew Jackson, ECE’03, would start a launch sequence that would bring down the malfunctioning satellite.

“I’m not surprised that two Rolla alumni were working high-risk, technically demanding operations,” Peel says. “The U.S. military is looking for all different types of people with different educational backgrounds, but because the services employ many cutting-edge technologies, the appeal for graduates from schools such as Rolla is high.”

Peel is stationed at Naval War College in Newport, R.I., where he is pursuing his third master’s degree, this one in national security.

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On December 1, 2008. Posted in Features, Winter 2008