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6594th Test Group, "Catch A Falling Star"

Updated on February 12, 2013
A patch worn on the guy's flight suits. The emblem of the 6594th Test Group.
A patch worn on the guy's flight suits. The emblem of the 6594th Test Group.
A C-130 Hercules in the process of catching a canister.
A C-130 Hercules in the process of catching a canister. | Source
Ready to catch!
Ready to catch! | Source
A plaque placed in remembrance of the 6594th Test Group which was deactivated in 1986 after 27 years.
A plaque placed in remembrance of the 6594th Test Group which was deactivated in 1986 after 27 years. | Source

It was just "another day at the office"

To my husband, it didn't seem to be that big of a deal at the time, but when we lived in Hawaii from 1983 until 1986, he was a part of a very special Air Force Squadron with a very special mission.

It was called the 6594th Test Group, and was in operation from 1958 until 1986, when it was deactivated (and after that, we left to move to North Carolina). This special squadron's mission was to retrieve film canisters, about the size of a garbage can, in midair that had been ejected from some of the United States' earliest spy satellites. These canisters would give off sparks upon re-entry into the ionosphere, and resembled a "falling star" as they fell back towards the earth - - hence the motto for the unit "Catch A Falling Star".

Sometimes it isn't until years later that you realize the significance of something you used to do, which is what happened to my husband, then you think "wow, I was part of that." Historians have said that the significance of what they did back then was as important as the Wright Brothers First Flight or Yeager Breaking the Sound Barrier.

The mission of the squadron was classified until 1995, when it was "declassified." These canisters would be released from the satellites, attached to a parachute, at about 55,000 feet. Then, when they would reach about 15,000 feet, they would be "caught" in midair. In the last seven years that the 6594th Test Group was in existence, the retrieval rate was 100 percent. That's a pretty significant achievement.

On August 20, 2010, a plaque commemorating the achievements of the Test Group, as well as the 6593rd Test Squadron (helicopter squadron) was placed in a ceremony at the historic flagpole in the center of Atterbury Circle on Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu.

At this ceremony, Colonel Sam Barrett had this to say - "What a mission you had - catching free-falling objects from outer space is no small feat, in your day, the test group was the only organization in the free world to accomplish such a mission. The stakes were high - our national security depended on it."

General Carlson also spoke at this ceremony. He talked about the importance of the units' mission and the strategic advantage it provided at a critical time in history, and about how it had a lasting effect in military heritage.

"What you did was give us an incredible advantage, an asymmetric advantage over our enemy. Your pioneering work in overhead reconnaissance gave the confidence we need," he said. "What you demonstrated was that we could do this kind of stuff."

Hawaii was an absolutely wonderful place to live, and I have so many memories from our time there. It was difficult at times being so far away from family. It wasn't like you could hop in a car and go visit! And it was hard when our boys were born there, so far away from family. But in the end, it was all definitely worth it.

When our boys were 16, we took them back to Hawaii to show them where they were born and where their Dad had spent three years in the 6594th Test Group there. Knowing that we lived there for a very good reason makes it that much better.

I am so proud of every person in the military and those who have ever served in the military. What they do is extraordinarily important to keep us safe, and free. Even when they feel like it is "just another day at the office"... it is SO much more than that. My hat is off to you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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