Lt. Col. Matthew Flahive has always loved space.
Space has played a large role in Flahive’s 18-year career in the Air Force. He is currently stationed at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, Calif., where he is the chief engineer for the Atlas V launch system.
“I’ve always worked with space,” said Flahive, 41, who grew up in Berks County and graduated from Wyomissing High School in 1998, during a phone interview. “That’s always been my interest, but the space community was always for the most part within the Air Force.”
That is no longer the case due to the addition of a new military branch, the United States Space Force. Flahive was one of the Air Force lieutenant colonels selected to transfer to the Space Force.
“I’m very happy with where I am today, but I would not have predicted that I would be here,” Flahive said, looking back at what he imagined his future to be as a young child. “My family was excited and proud, as was I, about this new frontier that we get to go into. It’s a great time to be a part of the space community and to be creating something new.”
The United State Senate confirmed the transfer of those in Flahive’s group to the Space Force on June 24.
Flahive’s wife, Liz, believes this new military branch is the perfect fit for her husband.
“Eleven years ago when we got married, the thought of an actual Space Force or being a Space Force family never crossed my mind,” Liz said in an email as she and their son Robby, 6, are with Flahive in California. “When the announcement was made that Space Force was happening, we knew it made total sense for Matt to transition over. I’m excited to see him take this path and follow what he’s always loved to do.”
Joining Space Force
Flahive’s military branch has changed, but so far his day-to-day responsibilities as the chief engineer for the Atlas V launch system have remained the same.
“My job is to ensure mission success for our launches,” he said. “I work with a top-notch technical team on everything from design validation to production oversight to launch operations. We deliver capabilities for the warfighter and for national defense by putting satellites into their intended orbits and delivering mission success, executing one launch at a time. It’s an exciting and intense mission.
“We’re surrounded by tremendous professionals who are dedicated to national defense and to ensuring that we have a technical advantage and we maintain a global advantage with the space domain.”
Some of Flahive’s team members also transferred to the Space Force while others remain in the Air Force.
According to Flahive, the Department of Defense held transfer boards to determine who would be selected to transfer to the Space Force. Service, career field, experience and skill set were taken into consideration during the selection process, Flahive said.
“Amongst our peers we had lots of conversations, mentoring and presentation from leadership about what the Space Force would bring to the table and how we could be a part of it,” Flahive said. “Many of my peers and I realized that we have a strong space background and it would be great for us to move over to the Space Force and continue serving in that capacity.”
His Berks roots
It was Flahive’s love of space that helped lead him down this career path, but he credits the Berks community with helping him build the skills possible to see it through and be successful.
That includes Wyomissing schools for challenging him in math and science, according to Liz, which led to him pursuing and completing a degree from Cornell University in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the people of Berks County,” he said. “My neighborhood, my teachers and everybody helped me develop into what I am today. I’m very thankful for my upbringing.”
Over the years Flahive has returned to his alma mater to speak with students in his mentor and teacher Curt Minich’s classes about career opportunities in national defense and other industries that students are not often exposed to in the area.
Flahive said Minich inspired him more than Minich realizes and Flahive is sure he is not the only one who has been inspired by the teacher.
Minich could not be reached for comment.
“I didn’t know that some of these things (careers) existed,” Flahive said of growing up in Berks. “There’s opportunities that in Berks County we may not have seen in our neighborhood, but would be great for members of our community to be aware of. I’m hoping that it can help others.”
Flahive’s interest in space was not about being an astronaut, but instead about the technical challenge and strategic capabilities. He added that popular culture also played a role.
That led to him joining the Air Force ROTC while at Cornell in the summer of 2001.
“I joined because I realized I had this growing interest in space from my studies at Cornell and from what I could gather, all of the interesting work was being done on the military side,” he said. “I was patriotic and looking forward to contributing to the community and giving back. It looked like it would be a great way to serve the community and have fun doing it.”
After graduating from Cornell in 2002, Flahive was a second lieutenant and classified as a developmental engineer. His post-graduation career started at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California working in missile training. Then he moved to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. He was there for close to five years as a nuclear combat crew commander, normally known as a missileer.
Flahive then worked on communication satellites in California, followed by working on classified systems at the National Reconnaissance Office. Then he worked on launch systems at the Pentagon before returning to California again in his current position.
During his career, Flahive has been able to meet and work with people of all walks of life and “great Americans who all want to contribute and have been working their entire lives to find ways to make things better.” He said his co-workers are the best part of his job.
Over the years Flahive has even worked with people from closer to home than he would have expected.
One of Flahive’s current co-workers, a lieutenant colonel who is the chief engineer for the Delta IV launch system, also worked with Flahive at the Pentagon and is from the region.
While at the Pentagon, their high school football teams played in the 2016 District 3 Class 3A semifinals which lead to good-natured razzing, according to Flahive.
He added that Wyomissing won, beating Bermudian Springs 24-7.
Flahive’s boss, a colonel who oversees the division, is also from Pennsylvania, though she is from closer to the Pittsburgh.
“Who would have thought that we all would end up in the Space Force and we’re launching rockets,” Flahive said. “I never would have imagined that back in the ’80s and ’90s going through the Wyomissing Area School District and Berks County. That wasn’t something that we even knew was a possibility.”
No matter what career interests someone has, Flahive’s advice is to put in the effort.
“Develop whatever your strengths are and then these opportunities that you don’t know exist will start appearing,” he said. “Take advantage of them. I worked on my strengths and my weaknesses and I put in the effort. Then I found success and a rewarding career. For me, that’s in the Space Force. That’s not going to be true for everybody, but take that mentality of putting in the effort and developing the skills will lead to a good place.”
Flahive’s passion for space was obvious to Liz early in their relationship.
She remembers when they began dating asking him how satellites end up where they do after a launch. Flahive was a captain working with communication satellites at the time.
“Matt used salt and pepper shakers as satellites and the restaurant table as space,” Liz said. “He explained differences between geostationary and geosynchronous orbits the satellites use. His face really lit up while talking about this work. I knew then he was going to keep space as his career.”
That love of space is now something he shares with his son.
“My son loves rockets,” Matt Flahive said. “He’s very interested in satellites, coming up with different satellites he wants to put up into orbit.”
Liz has noticed their son learning even more from his father.
“Matt has instilled the love of space and civic duty in our son,” she said. “Our 6-year-old already has a pretty solid grasp on Newton’s Third Law (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) and how it relates to Dad’s Atlas rocket launches. He loves building payloads into his LEGO space creations.”
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