Mirth inducted into Air Force’s Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame
By MARIA SONNENBERG
Suntree resident Joseph “Don” Mirth is a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general.
Photo Jill Blue
During his working career, retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Joseph “Don” Mirth could never talk about work at the dinner table, or anywhere else for that matter.
The Suntree resident, who in August was inducted into the Air Force’s Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, was responsible for the military satellites that have kept this country safe for decades.
When Mirth traveled for work, he could not discuss his destination, for fear the Soviets could track him. It wasn’t until 2011 that the government finally declassified some of his projects, although even now Mirth still is not allowed to talk about some facets of his work.
Mirth dedicated his award to those anonymous people who toiled for decades in the black world where they never received any acknowledgement or recognition for their efforts. Many of them went to their graves and their families never knew what they really did and the enormous impact that they had on the security of this country.
“I started my acceptance speech by saying, ‘This is amazing. Here you have two guys pushing 90 who are anxious to finally talk about some of the exciting things we did when we were 29 and 30 years old,’ ” Mirth said.
The other 2018 honorees were retired Col. Robert W. “Rob” Roy, Dr. Gladys B. West and William N. Barker.
Raised in Chicago, he enlisted into the Air Force’s Aviation Cadets in 1952 because he was about to be drafted into the infantry.
“That began an exciting 50-year odyssey,” Mirth said.
Only six out of his class of 91 made it through the test, and Mirth was one of only three out of those six who made it through pilot training.
He was tapped for the first Air Force satellite program even before graduating from Oklahoma State University, where he earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1959.
Vandenberg Air Force Base in California became headquarters from where he worked as project officer for the launch of satellites used for photo reconnaissance, early warning systems and a nuclear reactor.
Mirth also served as project chief and launch director for several classified space programs and a nuclear reactor. He then became chief of satellite control section engineering for the Air Force’s highest resolution spy satellite program.
After service in Vietnam in 1970, he served as spokesman for the F-15 Fighter program in Washington D.C.
His last assignment took him to Los Angeles, where he served as the Air Force Space Shuttle Program director, responsible for numerous shuttle-related facilities.
“We worked with NASA and built a launch base at Vandenberg, but the Air Force decided to get out of the business after the Challenger disaster,” Mirth said.
Retirement from active duty in 1982 led to a second career with United Technologies Corporation, where he initially managed the Joint Stars radar program for UTC’s Norden Systems Division. He later became UTC’s Space Flight Systems Division vice president, developing the Cargo Shuttle concept. He also was Pratt & Whitney’s USBI senior vice president for advanced engineering and technology.
At Kennedy Space Center, Mirth led the fourth-largest contracting activity, USBI Company, with duties that involved pre-launch processing as well as the refurbishment of the space shuttle’s solid rocket booster elements.
The country can thank Mirth for his years securing its welfare and freedom.
“Five U.S. presidents have credited the satellites with being instrumental in preventing World War III,” Mirth said.
After moving to Brevard County, Mirth was a Junior Achievement volunteer teacher for 26 years. It was one of his most gratifying experiences during that time period.