NORAD – The Shuttle Protectors

by Chris Bergin

Florida residents can expect to see a high volume of fighter jets patrolling over the State’s space coast this week, as the US Air Force increase their patrols over Shuttle Discovery ahead of her launch this week.

With the launch date closing in, Discovery is on the pad, and her crew have arrived at the Kennedy Space Center. In the sky, security – organised all the way up the chain of command to NORAD – is increasing exponentially ahead of lift-off.

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NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) are also using the Shuttle launch as part of Operation Noble Eagle – which NORAD set up after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington DC.

‘NORAD protects a variety of national assets across the nation on any given day,’ said Major General Hank Morrow. ‘In this case we’re increasing our sorties in the Cape Canaveral area during the Space Shuttle launch window.’

Local civic leaders, airport managers and elected officials in the greater Orlando and Cape Canaveral areas received a visual reminder (left) that the Continental U.S. NORAD Region is supporting STS-116 Space Shuttle launch operations.

In addition to increased air defense deterrence missions CONR fighters will be making low approaches at Orlando Executive, Orlando Sanford International, Daytona Beach International, and Melbourne International Airports, on December 5.

The increased sorties will be mainly carried out by F-15 fighter jets, which are a common sight flying over Shuttles on their pads. For obvious security reasons, no numbers were given on the amount of military resources being used.

The Air Force isn’t carrying out their increased security role in relation to any specific threat, but will be using the launch event as an opportunity to practice NORAD’s rapid response capability.

‘It’s part of our continuing mission to protect America’s airways with our fighter air patrols,’ added General Morrow. ‘The patrols are a smart, efficient way to protect American lives and resources in the region.’

Increased military aircraft activity will have minimal impact on the heavy volume of low-flying aircraft in the area, General Morrow noted. ‘We want local citizens to recognize this as a prudent measure as we work around the clock for their continued protection.’

Meanwhile, the STS-116 crew made the trip over from their base at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday.

The seven member crew have a 12 day mission ahead of them on what will be a hugely complex mission to re-wire the International Space Station (ISS), following the installation of the P3/P4 truss segments on the previous mission, STS-115.

They will also carry out the installation of the $11 million P5 truss on the station, as well as a crew rotation. European Space Agency astronauts Christer Fuglesang will become the first Swede in space – and Thomas Reiter of Germany, will be returning after a six month stay on the orbital outpost.

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