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Sharks watching STS-118 closely

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Before, during and after Space Shuttle Endeavour thundered from Kennedy Space Station Aug. 8 on a trek to the International Space Station, several elements of the 45th Space Wing busily supported the mission. 

"The U.S. Air Force is pleased and proud to support our mission partners at NASA on this, another important mission to the station. Go Endeavour!" Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, 45th Space Wing commander and former astronaut, said shortly after liftoff. "This launch was the second in less than a week on the Air Force's Eastern Range. Kudos to our Eastern Range team for turning the Range so quickly after the Delta II/Phoenix launch on Aug. 4." 

The primary objectives for the crew on STS-118 are to deliver a new segment for the station's backbone, install a new parts platform and swap out a failed gyroscope used to orient the station. 

While the overall mission is going well, NASA mission managers are concerned about damaged thermal tiles on the orbiter. That damage and how NASA tackles it concerns Lt. Col. Nick Seaward and his team in 45th Operations Group Human Space Flight Support (HSFS). 

Their primary responsibility after a launch is to serve as a liaison between DoD forces and NASA in the event of an emergency landing or other contingency. "It all depends on the situation, but for the most part we've already identified who would do what and go where," said Colonel Seaward. "We're ready to support no matter what NASA decides." 

Members of HSFS "sit alert" in the Support Opera-tions Center (SOC) at Patrick AFB, monitoring the mission 24/7 until the orbiter lands and they're released by the Joint Functional Component Command for Space. 

Lt. Col. Dave Impiccini is HSFS liaison officer to John-son Space Center in Houston. During shuttle missions, he attends on-orbit mission management team meetings everyday. "We take all of this information from JSC and the SOC, then report it to the Joint Space Operations Cen-ter (JSPOC) at Vandenberg AFB in California," said Colonel Seaward. "The JSPOC is the command and control center for all DoD forces." 

Lt. Col. Raymond Del Pozo is one of three HSFS officers serving eight-hour shifts in the SOC, ready to make the calls summoning DoD forces - if needed. 

"The problem with the tiles certainly has our attention. Our job is to make sure responding DoD forces are on the same page. If DoD contingency forces are called on...we're ready," he said.