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Captain Melanie Bean, USAF
Winner of the 2003 Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award

An excerpt from the nomination form:

Melanie Bean Future of Space Launch: Building on the Past

At this time in our nation's history, examples abound as to the impact that space assets have on the United States' ability to protect and defend itself both in the way of property and persons. Global Positioning System Satellites provide precision navigation for commercial, civil and military applications worldwide. Weather satellites characterize meteorological phenomena, predict environmental conditions, and forecast weather patterns with greater accuracy than ever before. National Security satellites provide imagery and signals intelligence directly to warfighters, and save lives. Finally, satellites provide the command, control, and communications, necessary to support the President of the United States in the defense of our country. As important as these assets are to our nation, they can only perform these vital functions if the space launch systems that place them into orbit function flawlessly.

The United States is currently undergoing the most critical transition in 45-year history of space launch. Capt Melanie Bean is blazing the trail for this dramatic change from heritage systems such as the Titan II and Atlas III to the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV), Atlas V and Delta IV. The future of national security rests on top of the only space launch system capable of launching these vital payloads after 2005-EELV. Captain Bean is a recognized expert in the Titan II launch system and is leading the team for the inaugural EELV flight from Vandenberg. Challenges abound as heritage launch systems are flown out; their capabilities must be maintained in the face of workforce retention issues and aging technology and parts. Concurrently, EELV is faced with different challenges of its own, including the requirement to launch a critical national security payload on the first launch from a new launch pad. To successfully usher in the EELV era, Capt Bean has drawn on lessons learned from the heritage systems, and painstakingly applied them to the future of spacelift, EELV. No greater asset exists than experienced and talented personnel. Captain Melanie Bean's outstanding achievement in fostering this transition truly sets her apart.

Captain Bean worked as the Launch Readiness Manager for flyout of the Titan II system over the last year to provide the spacelift mission's flightworthiness certification. She is a member of the Space and Missiles System Center (SMC) Detachment 9, Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB), California. SMC is the single center responsible for the acquisition of all Air Force space and missile systems. Melanie serves as the Space and Missiles System Center focal point for acquisition and sustainment of spacelift operations at Vandenberg AFB. She provided technical engineering support for range sustainment and modernization, launch vehicle processing, and satellite integration for national security, weather and experimental programs. This includes providing customer support and technical risk assessment culminating in the launch of Department of Defense (DoD), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) payloads.

Demanding customers such as these tested Capt. Bean's extraordinary technical and communication skills. As the program office lead for vehicle-specific issues during booster generation and launch execution operations, she was the single focal point to Headquarters Air Force Space Command and the 30th Space Wing for support as well as anomaly resolution. She directed technical space launch services contracts valued at more then three billion dollars. In this capacity, Melanie faced challenges in both the technical arena as well as logistics head on, leading to a timely and successful Titan II launch of the experimental Coriolis satellite in January 2003. This satellite provides important meteorological information on wind speed and direction at or near the surface of the ocean and valuable early warning of coronal mass ejections that affect communications and power distribution systems here on earth. Capt. Bean's attention to detail and technical prowess let to the picture perfect launch of this cornerstone research satellite.

The technical challenges to make this launch successful were abundant, and spanned the full spectrum from hardware verification to on-site manufacture of unique piece parts. One example of one of her "diving catches" dealt with a critical booster hydraulic pump. This inspection commenced with a detailed pedigree review, followed by a borescope inspection on the Stage I engine. Using a team comprised of AF members, Aerospace Corporation advisors and the contractor, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, engineers, analysis and inspection revealed the hardware was flightworthy, avoiding a three-week schedule impact. If this problem with this pump had not been fixed, hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. spacecraft and booster hardware could have been lost. Melanie used this same teaming concept to gain consensus on the design, on-site manufacture, and implementation of a doubler plate modification on the rocket frame interface between Stages I and II. This modification strengthened the rocket frame, which, in turn, helped ensure flightworthiness of the booster.

An innovator in the burgeoning field of space mission assurance, Capt Bean digs deep into engineering and technical issues. Overall, she conducted a detailed review of more than 200 processing tasks to cement the Space and Missile Systems Center's 3-star General's approval for flightworthiness of the booster vehicle. Technical issues must be examined in the light of overall program risk, including impact to schedule. Capt Bean's integration successes only grew in this area. She led the safing and de-erection of another Titan II booster to enable the Coriolis launch to move up one month, avoiding a $30 million contract extension. Melanie crafted an intricate plan to refurbish one of only three remaining guidance sets for the 35+ year-old Titan II, delivering the hardware three weeks ahead of schedule. During final integrated testing, Melanie helped to isolate a missing wire in the airborne flight safety system, ensuring the scheduled launch date while maintaining public safety. These scheduling challenges continued through time of launch. As part of the launch team, Melanie served as the Air Force integrator on console for four rehearsals and six launch countdown attempts for the Titan II mission. Her dedication to the mission was evident as she worked extended shifts over the holidays to posture the team for the earliest possible launch attempt. During the last hours, she obtained consensus to continue countdown with a waiver for marginal winds, making launch possible on that day.

In addition to these detailed technical challenges, Capt Bean overcame logistical challenges that stemmed from interaction with agencies on base, as well as the satellite customer. Capt Bean brilliantly deconflicted the use of Western Range assets supporting five priority missions, enabling each system to execute launch in its desired window. She secured funding for and directed loading of 320K pounds of volatile propellants and installation of command destruct ordinance resulting in error free operations. When pad camera parts threatened delay, Melanie directed an alternate fix, which provided a "Go" for video products for launch. In working with the satellite customer, she coordinated the highly visible satellite transport to the pad following an East Coast incident in handling just weeks earlier- totally incident free. Capt Bean also championed the replacement of a degraded vapor detection system to ensure the safety of the $300 million spacecraft. Clearly, the logistics involved in pulling this launch together were truly staggering, yet Melanie handled them with aplomb, resulting in complete launch success!

Following closely on the heels of the Coriolis launch, the SMC Detachment 9 commander chose Capt Bean to spearhead the new launch integration effort for EELV Delta IV missions. The EELV program is Headquarters Air Force Space Command's top priority programs-only the best of the best get selected for EELV. These high-priority missions currently include the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), as well as several National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) launches. This program is set to launch off of the newly refurbished Space Launch Complex 6 at Vandenberg AFB. The technical and logistics challenges of a new program only become magnified as first-time operations are accomplished daily. Melanie retains many of the same responsibilities as she handled for the Titan II system in the EELV realm. However, she has the added responsibility of acting as the single face to the satellite customers on base, including both DMSP and the NRO. She is entrusted with the immense effort of ensuring a seamless transition between the two launch eras, both technically and operationally, on the day of launch. This is only possible by taking lessons learned from the heritage launch systems, Titan, Atlas and Delta.

The two main areas of focus are teaming and flightworthiness certification. The only way to ensure the flightworthiness of not only the booster, but the integrated launch system including the spacecraft, is to use a teaming concept to process the vehicle, resolve any technical issues, and work through logistical challenges. The ultimate result of this teaming effort is launch vehicle verification, which is forwarded to the Space and Missile Systems Center commander, who approves the launch attempt.

Capt Bean has met this challenge head-on. She is a catalyst for shaping and implementing the new launch verification process at the launch site, modeled on the Titan II flightworthiness certification process. This system is use to track 200+ mission critical procedures run by the launch services contractor, from ground systems to flight hardware checkout. Each procedure is ranked by potential impact, and placed in a category that reflects the necessity to physically monitor each procedure, perform a data review, or monitor by exception. Any anomaly during a procedure run will be monitored and worked to acceptable resolution. Melanie relies on a team comprised of AF technicians and Aerospace Corporation Responsible Engineers who work in conjunction with the Boeing Company Responsible Engineers for this intricate resolution.

At the "business end" of the booster, Capt Bean communicates the state of the launch vehicle to the satellite customer. She is responsible for engineering the framework of communication between the launch site customer integrators as well as the integrators working directly with the satellite contractor. Melanie must understand and verify all requirements levied by the satellite user on the booster contractor and then ensure proper implementation by the booster contractor. This effort spans years, from before the satellite and booster arrive on Vandenberg AFB, to the day of launch. Capt Bean's innovation and initiative carry on the tradition of heritage programs and will have a significant impact on the future of space launch.

Looking to the future of space launch, there is no way to proceed without building on the past. This is true in terms of personnel as well as technical and logistical lessons. This is the place where Capt Bean really makes a difference. Her mentoring efforts for future aerospace leaders are all encompassing, from elementary children, to other professionals in and out of the military. Melanie has worked tirelessly with the Girl Scouts since graduation from college and is a lifetime member. She specifically focuses her attention on the older girls in Cadettes and Seniors, those in junior and senior high school. She feels that this is a time in the girls' lives where a positive influence from a successful, driven, professional woman, can really promote the girls' own initiative to succeed in all aspects of their lives. Melanie also volunteers annually in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics science fair held at Vandenberg AFB. Working with children in junior and senior high, Melanie hopes to inspire them to take on technical challenges which may lead to the future generation of space flight from Vandenberg AFB.

Melanie also mentors junior officers and college students looking at the Air Force as a career. Each summer, she sponsors several female cadets for a 3-day Vandenberg orientation as part of Operation Air Force. She gives them a feel for what engineering in the Air Force is about, what challenges and opportunities await them in their careers. Most recently, Melanie became a charter member of the Society of Women Engineers California Central Coast Professional Chapter. She looks forward to sharing her experiences with other professional women engineers both in and out of the aerospace field.

Melanie provides a positive role model for the "total person concept" that future Aerospace Leaders can emulate. She volunteers nearly 10 hrs weekly in the community for programs like Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, Special Olympics, American Cancer Society, local orchestras, and in her church. Melanie exemplifies the Air Force Core Values; integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do-on both the professional and personal fronts.

Capt Melanie Bean has tackled countless technical and logistical problems in handling the delicate task of space launch transition from the heritage launch systems, specifically, Titan II, to the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, the Delta IV. She is a technical expert, ace communicator, and selfless volunteer. Clearly, Capt Melanie Bean personifies the ideals of Women in Aerospace's mission to advance and promote the place of women in aerospace careers through her efforts in this single outstanding achievement of space launch transition.

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