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1st Comm assists NASA in Africa for space shuttle

By SSgt. Steve Seney

On the coast of Africa, halfway around the world from Mission Control in Houston, seven members from the 1st Combat Communications Group from Lindsey Air Station stood ready in support of the space shuttle program.

Located at Dakar, Senegal, the 1st has moved its equipment onto a barren strip of land next to an airfield and are alert to the needs of the shuttle and its crew.

The support, according to NASA officials, is to provide navigational support to the shuttle in case an emergency landing area is needed in this area of the world.

The international airport at Dakar, Senegal, was designated as the primary emergency landing site, because the initial and subsequent trajectories were over that part of Africa.

First Comm has provided high power navigational guidance for the fourth through eighth shuttle flights and is expected to continue through the next couple of flights.

Using a C-5A Galaxy provided by the Military Airlift Command, the 1st transported two high power TACANs with a seven man crew to West Africa.

Arriving about three weeks prior to each shuttle mission, the TACAN crew set to work installing and aligning the equipment. The work was long and hot but the teams were ready each and every time.

The 1868th Flight Check Squadron from Rhein Main Air Base arrived several days before the shuttle launch to check and calibrate the equipment.

Following that first flight the equipment is left at the site under guard by the Sengalise government. The Segalese government provided guards for the TACAN site and the United States Embassy provided coordination assistance.

The 1st Comm TACAN was so important that if an equipment failure occurred on launch day, the shuttle flight would have been scrubbed. This kind of pressure brought out the best in the TACAN crews and added an air of excitement and purpose to each and every mission.

Monkeys running across the runway was just one of the exotic features of Senegal.

1st Lt. James Parcels, OIC of the Radio Maintenance Branch said that the crews usually have to go down to Senegal approximately three weeks prior to a flight. "They do this in order to get all their gear ready for the flight. This includes any maintenance on the equipment, so they have to take spare parts and maintenance personnel as well as operators," he added.

Because NASA has had some maintenance problems of their own with a few of the flights, the members of the 1st Comm are never quite sure just when they are going to leave Lindsey. One member of the group said that his crew started out the gate three times before they left and then were called out at 2 a.m. in the morning.

A total of 19 personnel took part in the NASA missions and it proved to be an experience none of the participants would ever forget.

First In - Last Out

Picture contributed by Dave Powell

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