Giving Thanks for Atlas V and MAVEN Mission Success

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Dave "Dash" Ashley
  • Commander, 5th Space Launch Squadron
Just over a week ago, the 45th Space Wing and our mission partners sent the MAVEN spacecraft into a heliocentric transfer orbit on the way to Mars. We basically lifted and accelerated a 5,410-pound chunk containing some of the most precise and sensitive science instruments ever built and hurtled it away from the earth really, really fast in a very controlled manner. It should enter the red planet's orbit around Sept. 22, 2014, a journey of 10 months. The goal: Study changes in the Martian atmosphere that may explain what happened to the planet's water supply.

How did the team do? The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launched on the first minute of the first launch window, and is the most accurate orbital insertion for the Atlas V program to date. As the Air Force Launch Director sitting in the Atlas Space Operations Center (where the magic happens), I witnessed the smoothest countdown in the history of the Atlas V program. And for NASA, the MAVEN spacecraft made first communication acquisition on schedule and has since opened its solar arrays. So far we have 100% mission success. And I couldn't be prouder.

This success was very much in doubt back in September, as the government steered towards a shut down and furlough of civilian workers. As we all know, on Oct. 1 the government did partially shut down with direct impacts to the wing, NASA, and our mission partners. NASA workers preparing MAVEN for launch, 45 SW personnel supporting the Atlas V rocket processing, and Air Force testing lab technicians were all furloughed. Stop work orders were issued on some base support contracts. In summary, it appeared that a launch delay was inevitable.

But did this interfere with the United State's access to space? Absolutely not! Working tirelessly behind the scenes, leaders at the 45th Space Wing and KSC coordinated with Air Force Space Command and NASA headquarters to approve exceptions to the Anti-Deficiency Act. In effect they brought government civilians back to work in a mission-critical status, approved mission-essential overtime in support of spacecraft and rocket processing, and turned select support contracts back on.

All of this happened with no impact to MAVEN's launch date. Zero. Nada.

Thanks to everybody who helped make the Atlas V Maven mission a success. Go Atlas, Go Maven!