The storied history of 150 square miles on Santa Barbara County’s northern coast started another chapter last Friday when the 63-year-old air force base outside Lompoc was renamed Vandenberg Space Force Base. Major General Deanna Burt led the dedication ceremony on May 14, saying the new name and new organization reflected that “the context in which we conduct this mission has changed — drastically. Space is no longer simply a benign operating environment. Space is competitive, congested, and contested.”
Vandenberg is now one of four operation centers Burt has command over: Colorado’s Missile Warning Center at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and the Joint Overhead Persistent Infrared Planning Center at Buckley Garrison, and the Joint Navigation Warfare Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. Her cryptic reference to contested space was likely regarding America’s most significant rival, China, which landed on the moon in 2019, alarmed the world as it dropped a 23-ton piece of rocket debris through the atmosphere on May 8, and landed a rover on Mars on May 14.
Vandenberg became a missile base in 1956, when it was known as Camp Cooke, an Army base since 1941 that was named for Civil War general Philip St. George Cooke, who opened the first wagon route to California. During World War II, Cooke housed German and Italian war prisoners — a barracks that later became the Lompoc penitentiary — and a number of armored divisions. With the end of the war, the base was leased for agriculture and grazing, but after the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, Cooke came under the Strategic Air Command. It was renamed for General Hoyt Vandenberg, number two at the Air Force at the time, and launched its first U.S. ballistic missile in December 1958.
Space Force consists of six bases, three in Colorado, two in California, and one in Florida. Vandenberg’s 30th Space Wing — which has participated in the recent SpaceX and Delta satellite-launch missions, and the base’s Minuteman missile tests — is now known as Space Launch Delta 30. Its command structure remains the same, with Colonel Anthony Mastalir its leader and Chief Master Sergeant Jason DeLucey the command chief. Mastalir said the base would be sending up its 2,000th launch in a few months: “An exclamation point,” he called it, “underscoring more than six decades of dedication, persistence, and commitment to assure American access to space.”
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