It was an out-of-this-world experience for a group of area business leaders who joined the SLO Chamber Insight Studio trip to Vandenberg Air Force Base, home to a space command where innovation happens every day.
On the short list to be the nation’s space command HQ, Vandenberg is emerging as ground zero in the new space race – this one between billion-dollar private companies launching satellites and pursuing private space flight – and a key economic driver in the region. (Check out this awesome video from Wednesday’s missile launch.)
At almost 100,000 acres (99,578, to be exact), Vandenberg is the third-largest Air Force base in the country. More than 11,000 people already come on to the base each day for work, with ample opportunity for more private enterprise and partnerships.
After a bus ride down to Lompoc, our tour began in the super-secure launch command center. While we weren’t allowed to take photos here (or many places on base), it looks just like you probably picture – lots of computers, count-down clocks and a big ole screen.
Over lunch, Chief Master Sergeant Diena Mosely addressed how the base works with boundary-pushing public and private tenants, 52 of which operate on the base.
Then it was off to “Slick Six,” aka Space Launch Complex 6, the ginormous launch pad that’s regularly reconfigured to accommodate the latest spacecraft, dating back 30 years to Space Shuttle plans and up to today’s Delta IV rockets.
The Space & Missile Heritage Center was our next stop, where the group learned more about Vandenberg’s history of rocketry and space flight from a curator who has worked on base for nearly 30 years. The museum itself sits partly on Launch Complex 26, where the first successful launch of an American satellite occurred in 1958.
We hit a bit of a traffic jam on our way out, which at Vandenberg means we got stuck behind a NASA Pegasus rocket that pulled out in front of us. Alas, no photos allowed, but it was as cool as you imagine.
After gleaning insight on how activities at Vandenberg have shaped technology, security and even everyday life, we hit the road to wrap up the day with our Santa Maria Chamber friends at Presqu’ile winery.
There, Quintron COO Dominick Barry addressed the contractor perspective, providing insight from 25 years of working with Vandenberg at various private companies.
As a classified site for many years, Barry noted, Vandenberg didn’t garner the same publicity and attention as a space center as Florida’s Cape Canaveral. But that’s changing, he said, arguing the time is ripe to embrace Vandenberg as a key player in the new space race and promising regional economic development asset.
“I’ve seen more than 700 launches,” Barry said, “and I still get butterflies every time.”
*Photos provided by Matt Carver