Rockets are cool. The fire, the smoke, the noise: What’s not to like?
From professional spaceflight models to hobby shop kits, people of all ages can be found launching rockets of all shapes and sizes.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Livesay is one of them. Except he doesn’t launch rockets; he builds them.
Part of the 1st Air and Space Test Squadron, out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Livesay and the rest of his team travel around the country, moving rocket parts and putting them together. The team’s latest mission took them to a launch facility on Kodiak Island, Alaska, where it helped launch a rocket carrying a new defense satellite.
“Basically, we move the rocket stages, or boosters, from the staging facility to the launch pad,” Livesay said. “Then, the rocket is assembled and prepped for launch.”
To move the large rocket boosters, the team uses heavy equipment trucks, called Type 2 Transporters. The large trucks consist of a cab and a trailer specially designed to carry the heavy rocket boosters.
The trailers have five axles, with eight tires on each axle. Other than the center axle, each is steerable, allowing the driver more maneuverability while operating the vehicle.
“The driver also sits about two- to three-feet higher than in a normal semi,” said Livesay, who drives one of the transporters. “This gives the driver a better view of the road and what’s going on around him.”
The trucks are backed up to the staging facility and, using a system or rails and pneumatic motors, one of the boosters is loaded into the trailer. Once the trailer’s doors are closed, the booster is sealed in a protective, environmentally-controlled container.
This process is performed until each of the three boosters is loaded into a transporter.“It’s crazy, but something as simple as moving a rocket booster from point A to B actually has a large impact on our nation’s war efforts.” — Staff Sgt. Benjamin Linenberger
“It’s a slow, exacting process,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Linenberger, mission team chief. “We have to make sure everything is level and lines up perfectly before we can move the stages onto the trucks. It’s a very specialized mission.”
Specialized is something this team knows a lot about. It’s the only team like it in the Air Force, as most rockets are moved and launched by civilian contractors.
This experience hasn’t just been earned by moving rocket boosters, either. The majority of the Airmen on the team earned their stripes in the intercontinental ballistic missile community.
“We’re all old nuclear guys,” said Master Sgt. Todd Galford, the team’s noncommissioned officer in charge. “So we’ve logged a lot of time around missiles.”
“A lot of the stuff we use on a day-to-day basis is from the ‘80s,” Linenberger said. “Even the Type 2s were originally used to move ICBMs.”
The aging equipment doesn’t slow the team down, though. Its real enemy is Mother Nature. Wind, rain and other weather conditions can make the job dangerous and put everything on hold.
“Here in Alaska is a good example,” Livesay said. “The weather can change here in an instant.”
Sometimes what is supposed to take the team two days can end up taking three, four or even longer.
“It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” Galford said. “If a truck breaks down, you fix it and get back to work. But if the weather goes south, you just have to wait it out.”
Knowing their mission will help combat troops overseas make the waiting a little more tolerable. The satellites put into space by the rockets team helps provide GPS, intelligence and other sophisticated capabilities to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s crazy, but something as simple as moving a rocket booster from point A to B actually has a large impact on our nation’s war efforts,” Linenberger said. “And, when you think about it, that’s pretty darn cool.”