The Air Force relieved 17 launch control officers with the 91st Missile Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., of their authority to control and launch Minuteman III nuclear missiles following poor performance in one aspect of a consolidated unit inspection. The decision to sideline the officers for at least two months came following a March inspection in which the wing received a poor, yet passing grade—the equivalent of a “D”—in missile crew operations. Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told members of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel on May 9 that Air Force inspectors gave the wing an “excellent” rating in 14 of 22 total categories, “satisfactory” in seven categories, and “marginal” in one. “That one area [where they were] rated marginal was missile crew operations. It is unusual for a missile wing to be graded marginal in that area. It does not happen very often,” said Welsh. “Now, to be clear, marginal is passing. It meets the minimum standards for getting the job done, but it is not the level [wing leadership] would expect from their crew performance.” For our full coverage, continue to Cold Comfort.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.