Communications & rocket science: the daily workings of Lt. Col. Michael Carden

Capt. Megan Hoffmann, State Public Affairs Office

Lt. Col. Michael Carden knew early in life that he wanted to join some branch of the military. Inspired by his uncle, a former Marine and telecommunications specialist; Carden, as early as 10, had already developed a love for electronics and programming computer games.

Carden, who now lives in the tiny town of Chugwater, Wyoming, entered the active duty Air Force in 1988, and was initially assigned to Anderson Air Force Base, in Guam, where he worked hand-in-hand with the Navy, tracking weather satellites.

In 1992, he joined the Guam National Guard and was just getting his feet wet in the job when Typhoon Omar hit, followed by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Carden, who was a senior airman at the time, found himself establishing a radio link after all other communications were knocked out.

“The earthquake was massive with the power poles swaying all over the place. I walked up and stood on a hill on Anderson Air Force Base with my brick radio, and I called in to the Emergency Operations Center to let them know the Air National Guard was OK and ready to support. It was funny because I was one of the first people to call into the emergency operations center.  To have a guard guy be one of the first to call in was satisfying.”

 

 

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After a brief time with the Guam Guard, Carden’s expeditions led him to Eastern Europe where he did volunteer work and taught English, before deciding to attend Iowa State University, bringing him back to his childhood roots. He earned his bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering.

“If you’ve ever seen the show ‘How It’s Made,’ my education was sort of like that. I was trained to build machines, that assembled other machines,” he said.

While working on his graduate degree he rejoined the military via the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Iowa State. He also patented a process for making hydrogen peroxide that would be used as an environmentally friendly rocket propellant.

At 34, re-blued by the Air Force and armed with a patent in his back pocket, Carden went to work at Los Angeles Air Force Base, as an engineer, where he helped design TacSat-3, a satellite which eventually orbited the Earth for 2 1/2 years.

In 2008 he received a call from an unfamiliar man in Chugwater, Wyoming, who invited him to visit the tiny town 30 miles from the nearest gas station.

“I was contacted by Tim Bendel, who owns Frontier Astronautics and he said he had heard of my past work with rocket propellants and invited me to come to Chugwater and take a look at his rocket engine test facility, which is a refurbished Atlas E Silo underground,” Carden said.

He obliged, visited the underground facility, and loved it. He leased the 2,000- square-foot liquid oxygen bay, and in 2008 started working for X-L Space Systems, making specialty chemicals used for the aerospace industry.

Bendel, who started Frontier Astronautics 11 years ago, said Carden was an obvious good fit for his business.

“It’s a perfect synergy. We test rocket engines here and Michael makes rocket propellant, so it makes sense. We now have the propellant on site and no longer have to ship it in. We tell Michael what we need, and he makes it for us,” said Bendel.

Carden’s job is like cooking special orders in a very sophisticated kitchen; he refines food grade hydrogen peroxide into military specification fuel before sending it to a contractor, such as Boeing, for burning and analysis in rocket engines.

After six years of commuting to Washington to fulfill his Washington Air National Guard duties, Carden joined the Wyoming Air National Guard, making the traditional one weekend a month commute easier. He serves as the director of communications with the joint staff, Wyoming Air National Guard, in Cheyenne, setting up communication systems in austere, rural or emergency situations.

Carden has also started an Internet archival business. The system he builds provides a cache of webpages and resources needed for disaster preparedness and emergency operations activities. Much like his military job, it allows him to set up communications when there is little-to-no technology or Internet connection available and provide a very specialized and important service to military and civilian emergency responders.

“It’s like having your own stand-alone Google,” Carden said. “Sometimes emergency response teams set up in places where there is no Internet.”

Brig. Gen. Greg Porter, director of the Wyoming National Guard’s joint staff, is pleased to have Carden on his team.

“Having Lt. Col. Carden as director of communications for the joint staff has been extremely beneficial for us. He has a unique and exceptional background that makes him an outstanding asset when we deploy for our state missions. There are no problems too big for Lt. Col. Carden,” Porter said.

“I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at,” said Carden. “Working with the Army and Air personnel in the Wyoming National Guard to improve military communications, while also working on technology and communications in the civilian sector.”

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