REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- One U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command team continues to reach for the stars while exchanging ideas with NASA and industry experts.

Along with witnessing the launching of Kestrel Eye aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in preparation for its deployment from the International Space Station in October, members of the USASMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center's Kestrel Eye team were educated about America's "Space Coast."

"The Kestrel Eye Program is extremely important to USASMDC/ARSTRAT and the Army," said Jeri Manley, SMDC Space Systems Division chief. "The launch is the culmination of nearly seven years of effort to develop and demonstrate the feasibility of a low-cost imaging small satellite to support near-real time situational awareness for the Soldier on the ground."

Manley and the rest of her team participated in a technical interchange meeting, or TIM, with NASA and visited their facilities.

"Our team had a chance to interact with a panel of NASA experts who possessed knowledge and experience across a broad spectrum of topics related to SMDC's small satellite science and technology programs," Manley said. "During the facility visits, SMDC engineers observed payload integration activities and asked questions that helped tailor the NASA standard processes to our small satellite needs. Additionally, we were able to gain insight into integration and testing facility capabilities that could potentially be made available to our team. The information garnered from both the TIM and facility visits were exceedingly informative."

Manley said the technical exchanges with NASA, the launch and the opportunity to visit the Kennedy Space Center facilities was a unique and educational experience.

"Of course I would have to say that watching the Army's Kestrel Eye satellite launch into orbit was the pinnacle of the trip," Manley said. "Watching the SpaceX launch in person and feeling the shock wave was extraordinary to witness. The unexpected visit by Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and the remarks he offered to the visitors in attendance was also quite incredible. In addition, watching the SpaceX Falcon 9 reusable first stage rocket return to Earth after burnout and land in an upright configuration at Cape Canaveral was also a remarkable thing to watch up close.

"I would like to express appreciation to NASA and Kennedy Space Center personnel for the kindness extended to our team during Kestrel Eye launch week," she added. "It was truly a once in a lifetime experience."

During the time at Kennedy Space Center, members of the Kestrel Eye team participated in a panel discussion, a NanoRacks technology briefing, a Space Station Processing Facility High Bay tour, an Orion High Bay tour and a visit to the Swamp Works Laboratory.

"I wanted to provide an overview of the system to be used for the historic deployment of Kestrel Eye," said Kirk Woellert, NanoRacks external payloads manager. "I also wanted to introduce some of the concepts it takes to integrate a payload on the International Space Station. After so much effort, it is great to assist SMDC in its efforts to validate and prove that it is time to start bringing more space capabilities to the tactical Warfighter."

Although there were numerous opportunities to learn about efforts NASA has going on, members of the Kestrel Eye team vividly remember the launch.

"The launch was an unforgettable experience," said Christian Reyes, SMDC Tech Center's Space Division computer scientist. "My heart started racing as the rocket entered the final countdown. Years of hard work and challenges overcome were sitting atop ready to go from zero to 17,000 mph. We were so close that you could feel the shockwaves from the engine in your chest. Watching the first stage booster land, and hearing the sonic booms, was amazing. As they say, you only live once, and I'm glad that I could be at this launch."

Reyes discussed how it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit such a historical place that is also looking towards the future.

"The best was visiting the Space Station Processing Facility," Reyes said. "At the SSPF, modules for the International Space Station would be integrated and prepared for shipment. There is no other platform as the ISS, and to be in the high bays where pieces of it were, and still are there, was humbling.

"The NASA tour was very exciting," he added. "We were able to see the Orion program hard at work preparing the capsule for its next test. Down the hall from the Orion capsule is being worked on was where the Apollo astronauts would come back to go into quarantine. As a space nerd, I've always wanted to see such things."

Reyes said he was looking forward to operating the satellite and hopefully having the team return to the "Space Coast" for future partnerships.

"Seeing the launch and getting a tour of Kennedy Space Center was great, but an equally important aspect of the trip was being able to celebrate as a team for all the hard work we've put in," Reyes said.