First Air Force, Detachment 3 (Det. 3) coordinates DoD contingency support for our nation's human space flight programs. Det. 3 is the only unit within the Department of Defense tasked to support contingency operations during Commercial Crew Program launches alongside interagency partners.
For all crewed space flights, Det. 3 plays the role of overseeing postured rescue forces on alert at Patrick Space Force Base in Florida, Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. Additionally, Det. 3 is responsible for coordinating astronaut rescue and recovery, contingency landing site support, payload security, medical support, coordination of airlift/sealift for contingency operations, as well as other support services required in the event of a spacecraft emergency. Det. 3 and its rescue forces live out the same motto -- These things we do, that others may live” -- so that an astronaut’s worst day is not their last. Det. 3 has been involved in the rescue of astronauts since the Mercury program days and has supported all crewed programs to include Gemini, Apollo, Skylab/Soyuz and now Commercial Crew and Artemis.
During mission execution, the detachment develops functional/operational documents with U.S. Strategic Command and coordinates with elements of the military departments, combatant commands, DoD agencies, and other U.S. governmental agencies, and then monitors the status of those forces. During human space flight support launch and recovery events, Det. 3 activates the Support Operations Center (SOC) at Patrick SFB which maintains contact with NASA and the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg SFB. Additionally, Det. 3 has liaison officers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and USSTRATCOM at Offutt AFB, Neb.
Det. 3, is charged with coordinating and controlling DoD nominal and contingency Rescue, Recovery and Retrieval for current and future human space flight programs and to train and prepare DoD personnel worldwide to support our nation’s crewed space programs.
Rescue and recovery of astronauts
Landing site support
Payload security and support
News media support
Airlift/sealift and salvage
Other services as requested
Serving as the DoD’s Human Space Flight Support Office, Det. 3 is in its 62nd year supporting NASA. It was chartered in 1959 by the Secretary of Defense as the Department of Defense Mercury Support (DDMS) established for project Mercury. Later in 1963, DDMS transitioned to become the DoD Manned Space Flight Support Office to support Project Gemini. Its expressed purpose is to provide DoD support to our nation's human space flight programs . . . putting people into space and returning them safely to Earth.
In 1968, DDMS began supporting Project Apollo, Skylab and Soyuz. In 1977, its support expanded to include the Space Shuttle Program. By the early 2000s, Det. 3 included Soyuz landing support and Constellation/Orion program support.
In 2007, DDMS became the 45th Space Wing, 45th Operations Group Human Space Flight Support (HSFS); and a year later, became Detachment 3, 45th Operations Group (HSFS). In 2010, the 45 OG Det. 3 began planning support for NASA’s approaching Commercial Crew Program. In 2011, the Space Shuttle officially retired, and the U.S. began in earnest the new era of human space flight with the Commercial Crew Program.
The first major milestone in the new era of Human Space Flight, came in March 2019, when SpaceX accomplished their Crew Dragon Demo Mission 1, or DM-1, which was an un-crewed mission. In July 2019, Det. 3 took part in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. In 2020, Det. 3 brought home numerous wing-level and group-level individual awards, including the Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award, the Alison Award for Character and Innovation and the 2020 Mark A. Welsh III “One Air Force” Award.
In order to prepare for contingency support, Det. 3 not only teams with NASA, but also SpaceX, Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration, combatant commands, military services, the Department of State, international rescue forces, and multiple foreign government agencies.
In the past three years, Det. 3 has Executed DoD Human Space Flight Support missions based out of Patrick Space Force Base and the Johnson Space Center. It has conducted four just-in-time training/Rescue Qualification Force Courses, training 99 Guardian Angels. Under the Combined Force Space Component Command (CFSCC), Det. 3 served as the core of “Task Force 45” and the lead global contingency rescue force for three crewed launches and two water landing missions, including SpaceX Demo Mission 2, and the Crew-1 landing in May of 2021.
Today, Det. 3 still actively supports Soyuz missions, including the recent Soyuz MS-16 landing in October of 2020, ensuring the safe return of U.S. astronaut, Christopher Cassidy.
On May 11, 2021, Det. 3, was formerly designated Det. 3, Space Launch Delta 45, U.S. Space Command, Patrick Space Force Base, Fla. In March of 2021, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., named First Air Force as the Air Component to U. S. Space Command. The move directly led to the decision to transfer Det. 3 from USSPACECOM to First Air Force, under Air Combat Command. On July 15, 2021, Det. 3 was re-designated as Det. 3, First Air Force.