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ASTS lieutenant has special tie to Endeavour mission

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. --  The STS-123 Endeavour Space Shuttle takes off at the Kennedy Space Center on March 11. The shuttle is traveling with a payload designed in part by Vandenberg's own 1st Lt. Anna Gunn-Golkin, a 1st Air and Space Test Squadron launch mission manager. (Courtesy photo)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The STS-123 Endeavour Space Shuttle takes off at the Kennedy Space Center on March 11. The shuttle is traveling with a payload designed in part by Vandenberg's own 1st Lt. Anna Gunn-Golkin, a 1st Air and Space Test Squadron launch mission manager. (Courtesy photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The crew of the recent STS-123 Endeavour Space Shuttle was traveling with a unique payload that was designed in part by a lieutenant here.

First Lt. Anna Gunn-Golkin, a 1st Air and Space Test Squadron Launch Mission Manager, was part of a nine-person team that designed, built and tested the Rigidizable Inflatable Get-Away-Special Experiment (RIGEX) project as part of their master's thesis at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT).

RIGEX is designed to test and collect data on inflatable and rigidizable structures in space. Current satellites and their accompanying antennas are often limited in size due to limited launch vehicle dimensions. Success of this technology would help alleviate some of the size limitations for future space missions, according to the AFIT website.

"The project will allow us to carry more with less," Lieutenant Gunn-Golkin said. "A small space-lift vehicle, like the Minotaur IV, would be able to carry a large payload in a small configuration and then inflate it once it is in orbit. This has potential to drastically reduce launch costs by reducing payload weight and size."
Having a payload reach outer space is something with which Vandenberg is familiar. However, the innovative nature of this payload boasts high marks for the personnel that Vandenberg has performing its space mission everyday.

"We are proud to have one of our own involved in such a high-profile mission," said Maj. Andy Wulfestieg, the 1st ASTS director of operations. "It says a lot about the professionals we have and their dedication to finding unique ways to use space and help the warfighter and space community."

The Endeavour crew tested the RIGEX project for the duration of the flight. After the shuttle's landing on March 27, the data will be studied by AFIT students and members of the space community to further explore the use of rigidizable inflatable technology.