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Sharks prepare Delta II for launch

Tech. Sgt. Randall Thomas (far right), 1st Space Launch Squadron, observes mating of the GPS IIR-19 satellite to the Delta II booster scheduled for launch March 15 from Complex 17A at Cape Canaveral. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of 1st Space Launch Squadron)

Tech. Sgt. Randall Thomas (far right), 1st Space Launch Squadron, observes mating of the GPS IIR-19 satellite to the Delta II booster scheduled for launch March 15 from Complex 17A at Cape Canaveral. (U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of 1st Space Launch Squadron)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- A Delta II rocket is scheduled to lift off March 15 from Cape Canaveral carrying a GPS satellite.

Before that launch takes place, however, several tasks needed to be completed.
That is where maintenance engineering personnel (MEP) such as Tech. Sgt. Thomas Randall of the 1st Space Launch Squadron come in.

As an MEP, Sergeant Thomas oversees the processing tasks for the Delta II program. These include transporting the flight hardware, installing self-destruct ordnances and the mating of each stage of the booster as well as the boosters' payload. In addition, Sergeant Thomas ensures that contractors comply with regulations and verifies all equipment is serviceable.

"Safety and security are key to what we do," said Sergeant Thomas. An example would be when the spacecraft was mated to the rocket March 3, and no one was allowed under it as it was hoisted to the top of the booster.

To Sergeant Thomas, safety is a paramount concern, but it isn't the only challenge he sees in his work. Florida's sometimes unpredictable weather can often delay work on a booster or spacecraft. "The most common delay in the launch business is the weather," he said.

Another issue is that the stages of the Delta II booster are built in different places at different times. "It's important that the flight hardware is machined per the engineering drawings," said Sergeant Thomas. "All mating bolt holes need to match up correctly."
Right now, with the spacecraft now mated to the booster, the protective fairing installed and ordnance connections done, the booster is almost ready for flight. Sergeant Thomas and the other 1st SLS personnel will press on to other tasks to ready the Delta II for launch.

Sergeant Thomas has processed five Delta II boosters, and Titans before that. "I enjoy what I do," he said, "I get to work with a lot of interesting people. In my opinion the 1st SLS is the best squadron at the Cape."