SpaceX’s Falcon 9 spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center on May 30th. This was the first spacecraft to take off from the Kennedy Space Center’s pad since the Space Shuttle Program was shut down in 2011.

The Defense Visual Information Distribution Service was on the front lines of this historic event. They provided an in-depth story and personal interviews with those present.

Hordes of people came to watch the historic liftoff, not to mention the thousands that watched it remotely. Among all these people, there was a small group watching with intense eyes, hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst. These people were the Air Force’s 58th Rescue Squadron’s Guardian Angels, out of Nellis Air Force Base.

These Guardian Angels are the Air Force’s elite Pararescuemen, better known as PJs. These personnel recovery experts were split up into three Space Flight Support Force teams — strategically located at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii — to support this very important space mission.

Being a part of this event was a historic tradition for the Pararescue community. As Major Lucas Gagliardi, a member of the 58th Rescue Squadron and director of operations, pointed out, “Pararescue has been a part of manned space flight since it began in the 1960s, so to be included in the first team to bring back some of our heritage was a super humbling and awesome experience.”

The three teams were tactfully located to respond if an emergency occurred and the mission was forced to abort at any time before the spacecraft linked up with the International Space Station.

The preparation for this special mission was intense. A month before the launch took place, the three teams, comprised of Combat Rescue Officers and PJs, went to Cocoa Beach, Florida to participate in Just-in-Time-Training (JITT) with Detachment 3, a unit attached to the 45th Space Wing, out of Patrick Air Force Base.

Gagliardi summed up the month of intense training: “We spent, between 12 to 14 hours daily, working in the basin and getting hands-on training with the capsule. We had a wide variety of instructors from retired Pararescuemen, to pilots, firefighters, doctors, basically the whole gamut of rescue personnel who each brought their unique, capabilities and expertise to train us up for this mission.”