Tag Archives: Shuttle

Behind the scenes of Team Rescue at Space Shuttle Endeavour launch

By Lt Col Robert Haston
920th Rescue Wing Chief of Safety                   

No space shuttle crew ascends to the Heavens without a few angels on its shoulders. The 920th Rescue Wing, stationed out of Patrick Air Force Base, is always on deck to ensure the astronauts are safe in case of a mishap. In this blog post, Lt Col Haston, an HH-60G Pave Hawk Pilot,  provides us with a glimpse of the 920th Rescue Wing’s mission before, during, and after launch.

Team Rescue

Our support for the launch starts three hours before launch (L-180 in NASA lingo) when two HH-60s from Patrick AFB arrive at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) to be ready for different types of launch area emergencies (Modes I-IV). At L-120 the first of two more HH-60s is at 6,000 feet over the 20 by 60 mile launch danger zone. They use radar and ship tracking receivers to get a long range picture of boats approaching the area.

Since ships may be closing at up to 30 knots, we initially scan an area a third of the size of Florida. We contact and move the ships, which can be difficult considering the ship may be roughly the size and weight of the Empire State Building, and we are talking to a watch captain who has a limited command of English.

Once we have sorted the big boys out, we have to deal with the professional fishermen who are generally no problem unless they are asleep below decks, which might require pushing their boat around with our rotor wash to wake them up. We also have to deal with sport fishermen and pleasure boaters who run the gamut from competent to clueless. Hopefully there isn’t a swarm of them. In the middle of this (around L-90) we pop up and get gas from a Marine Tanker.

We go land and get ready for our real job, covering for potential post launch mishaps. Modes V-VII (at or near the SLF) are pretty much a helicopter show, so they aren’t too complicated unless the Shuttle winds up in the water or trees, leaking poisonous hydrazine, etc. Mode VIII is overwater rescue which may take place off the Carolinas, and involve three tankers and four helicopters, plus more assets coming down from Cherry Point or New York. From exercises, I can say that the real challenge is if we all arrive on scene to find the astronauts, sort out who gets which, who goes to what hospital, and which tanker goes with which helicopters. Hopefully it isn’t on a moonless night in bad weather.

For more information on Team Rescue, see this story. It was posted toward the end of April to coincide with Endeavour’s original launch window.

PHOTO: Every time a space shuttle takes off, the Rescue Reservists from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, are on hand in case of emergency. The 920th Airmen are charged as guardians of the astronauts during NASA space shuttle missions to and from the Kennedy Space Center. This includes four HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters and crew, three HC-130 P/N King aircraft and crew and about 15 pararescuemen, not to mention all of the maintenance support personnel who keep these aged aircraft flying. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Matthew C. Simpson)

After weather delays, Discovery revealed during ‘Rollback’

By Lance CheungXenon lights

Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

Nov. 3, 2010

Despite weather from the west rolling through the area a few days ago, I finally watched the sun set and xenon lights (click for video) come on from 1/4 mile away.

Seeing Discovery revealed (click for video) was momentous. To see the culmination of will, drive, integrity and technology in the stylized shape of a bird destined to soar was moving.

I can hardly wait to see this bird lift its wings upward. Check out this cool video of the rollback of the Rotating Service Structure.

PHOTOS: (Top) Space shuttle Discovery shines in the distance, seen from the media center Nov. 3, 2010, at the Kennedy Space Complex, Fla. In the marina, a mooring points to launch complex 39A where xenon lights cast beams into the sky and clouds. Between now and launch time, numerous checks will be accomplished before the mission will be ready to go, but because of a weather delay the launch is expected to be Friday. Late that morning the space travelers will head to the launch complex to be strapped in and prepare to blast-off into space. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lance Cheung)
(Bottom left) Photographers stand ready for the rollback of the rotating service structure and reveal of orbiter Discovery at launch complex 39A, Nov. 3, 2010, Kennedy Space Complex, Fla. The clouds are a weather front that has delayed the launch by one day. Weather forecasting is handled by the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Lance Cheung)
(Bottom right) The massive rotating service structure swings away from the space shuttle revealing the orbiter Discovery Nov. 3, 2010, at the Kennedy Space Complex, Fla. Between now and launch time, numerous checks will be accomplished before the mission will be ready to go. But, because of a weather delay the launch is expected to be Friday. Late that morning the space travelers will head to the launch complex to be strapped in and prepare to blast-off into space. STS-133 will be commanded by retired (USAF) Colonel Steve Lindsey. This final flight of Discovery will be piloted by active duty (USAF) Col. Eric Boe. The lead mission specialist is (USAF) Col. Alvin Drew. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lance Cheung)

Rain forecast highlights 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron support to Discovery

By Lance Cheung

Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

Nov. 2, 2010

It’s been a few days of waiting near Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, mainly due to weather conditions. It’s given me a chance to learn about how closely the Kennedy Space Center and neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Station rely on the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron at nearby Patrick Air Force Base to forecast weather for all operations.

The only concerns for the shuttle launch, as of Nov. 2, are the possibility of low-level clouds or rain showers within 20 nautical miles of the Shuttle Landing Facility. In the event of lightning, an 80-foot lightening mast is positioned atop the Fixed Service Structure high above the Space Shuttle Discovery.

PHOTO: During the “Kennedy Space Center: Today & Tomorrow” tour, the Space Shuttle Discovery can be viewed from one mile away on Launch Complex 39A, at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Nov. 1, 2010. The adjusted takeoff date is Nov 3. To make Space Shuttle launches as economical as possible, their reuse is crucial. Unlike rocket boosters previously used in the space program, the Space Shuttle’s solid rocket booster (SRB) casings and associated flight hardware are recovered at sea. The expended boosters are disassembled, refurbished and reloaded with solid propellant for reuse. The two retrieval ships that perform the SRB recovery, the Liberty Star and Freedom Star, are unique vessels specifically designed and constructed for this task. (Courtesy photo/Lance Cheung)

Looking back into space program history

By Lance Cheung

Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

Nov. 1, 2010

Today I had the opportunity to visit the greatest American rocket ever built: Saturn V. The Apollo crews (who consisted of military pilots, many from the Air Force) got to fly the most powerful American rocket ever built. What an amazing sight to see how much this rocket dwarfs the people who flock to see it.

PHOTO: Saturn V rocket. (Photo courtesy\Lance Cheung)

Waiting for the final launch of Discovery

By Lance Cheung

Defense Media Activity-San Antonio

Oct. 31, 2010

It’s been a long week. It will be hard to see Discovery fly her last mission.

While passing the time waiting for the launch, the Space Station 3D movie, with its incredible first person views, brought me so much closer to the space station experience. Being a photojournalist, these visuals made the U.S. Air Force connection and contribution very close. I once had a photo session with some of these Airmen, while on assignment with Airman Magazine.

I also had the opportunity to chat with Tim Damitz, a blogger guest of Twitter, who came out to cover the launch. He talked about his excitement leading up to the launch and the connection between the U.S. Air Force and NASA.

The shuttle and crew’s long and vital service are appreciated and will be missed with these final flights.

PHOTO: Taking a moment before watching the Space Station 3-D movie. Its incredible views brought me so much closer to the space station experience. (U.S. Air Force photos\Lance Cheung)