Looking Back: Badge Number 1 in Orbit

  • Published
  • By Robert Vanderpool
  • OSI Command Historian

On the afternoon of April 4, 1983, the Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.  This launch marked the sixth overall orbital mission for the Space Shuttle program and was also the maiden voyage for the Challenger.  Piloting the spacecraft was active-duty Air Force Col. Karol J. Bobko. Bobko, who was assigned to NASA in 1969, was flying his first mission as an astronaut.  A 1959 graduate of the Air Force Academy, with this flight Bobko also became the first academy graduate to travel in space.

The primary mission for the 4-person Challenger crew was the deployment of a tracking and data relay satellite.  Secondary missions included the first spacewalk for the Space Shuttle program and several experiments related to metallurgy, radiation, weather, and weightlessness.  Included among the payload was a 200-pound cannister that contained experiments designed by cadets from the Air Force Academy.  Within the cannister, in homage to Bobko’s historic flight, the academy included several patches, decals, a guidon flag, and one item of special interest to OSI.

Throughout most of the early space program, OSI Special Agents were assigned to provide protective service operations to NASA astronauts due to the location of NASA launch facilities primarily being related geographically or otherwise to Air Force installations and facilities.  This tradition continued into the 1980s with the Space Shuttle program.  Special Agents from District 18, which covered Southern California, and Special Agents from District 7, which covered all of Florida, were the OSI personnel primarily tasked for these assignments.  This particular mission; however, also included Special Agents from District 14, which covered Wyoming and Colorado, due to the addition of the Air Force Academy payload.

During mid-1982, Special Agents from Detachment 1402, which was located at the Air Force Academy, were approached by the academy project officer for the space package regarding the possibility of including a token from OSI being sent up alongside the items from the academy.  This was done as a gesture of appreciation for OSI’s support to the academy but also for OSI’s support to the space program overall.  Discussions progressed and moved up the chain of command until it was agreed upon that the one item OSI would include in the package would be Badge Number 1, assigned to then-OSI Commander, Brig. Gen. Richard S. Beyea Jr.  Badge Number 1 was chosen to serve as a direct representation of all of OSI.

Special Agents obtained the badge from Brig. Gen. Beyea and delivered it to the USAFA in Sept. 1982.  From there, the badge was hand delivered to the Kennedy Space Center where it was added to the academy payload.  The Challenger mission was originally scheduled to fly in late-January 1983; however, the flight was delayed nearly three months due to engine issues.  

On April 4th, Challenger launched with Badge Number 1 on board.  Over the five-day mission,  Badge Number 1 completed 81 orbits around the Earth traveling more than 2 million miles.  When the Space Shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on April 9th, it was met by over 250,000 spectators who were there to welcome the astronauts back home.   Thirteen Special Agents from California based OSI detachments provided protective services for the returning astronauts during the public engagement portion of the event and also until the astronauts returned to their home base in Houston, Texas. 

Upon completion of the mission, the badge was returned to the academy along with the rest of its payload.  Claimed by Special Agents from Detachment 1402, the badge was then returned to Brig. Gen. Beyea.  Accompanying the badge, was a letter written by Maj. Gen. Robert E. Kelley, then Superintendent of the Air Force Academy, who wrote simply: “Your OSI Badge Number 1 was in orbit with our experiments.  It is returned with a copy of the NASA letter certifying it flew, in appreciation of your (OSI) support to the project.”