PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — When it comes to manned space missions, most people focus on the flight into space, not the return to Earth.

It turns out one of the teams involved in recovering astronauts and spacecraft is based at Tyndall Air Force Base.

The local business community got the chance to hear from the team leader.

“If those astronauts go down in the middle of the ocean, unlike back in the sixties and seventies where they were, the Navy was much bigger and had ships all over and could support that,” First Air Force Colonel Jason Gingrich said. “If they go down, we don’t know where they’re going to go.”

The First Air Force is tasked with ensuring astronauts and spacecraft that return to Earth are recovered safely.

“The First Air Force, which is a four-headed command here at Tyndall Air Force Base, where we support NORTHCOM, NORAD, Air Combat Command, and US Space Command,” Gingrich said

The team’s last major mission was in August when SpaceX Crew-7 was deployed to the international space station and Crew-6 returned to Earth.

“During that, we had forces staged in Florida, South Carolina, and Hawaii, depending on where they came down,”  Gingrich said.  “And those are those forces that we train to be ready for any type of contingency that happens when they return.” 

Gingrich said his team trains for the worst-case scenario.

“We set contingency rescue for SpaceX,”  Gingrich said. “So what we do there is we have helicopter teams that are ready to fly out with Pararescue men on them.”

The First Air Force has hundreds of airmen stationed here in Bay County,” Gingrich said. 

“We’re here to support them,” Military Affairs Committee Garrett Anderson said. “As chairman of the Military Affairs Committee, I think it’s important that we support the military to highlight what they’re doing in this area and showcase their mission.”

Gingrich said the airmen are equally as happy to be here in Bay County.

“Our airmen work and live here in the area, and we love the support,” Gingrich said.  “And most the airmen love the beach.”

Click here for more information on the Bay County Chamber of Commerce.