George Brittingham is often one of the last people an astronaut sees before launch. As an insertion technician, Brittingham is a member of the closeout crew, which helps the astronauts get into the space shuttle as it is prepared for flight. Brittingham also makes sure the astronauts and rescue personnel know what to do if something goes wrong.
What is your job, and how do you support astronauts for space travel?
I am an insertion technician, responsible for crew ingress (or entry) prior to flight, the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (a practice run of launch day, using the actual orbiter), and training events. This also includes ensuring the crew has the correct crew-worn/carry-on equipment and that all suit-related items are functioning and fit properly. I am one of seven members of the shuttle closeout crew, which has the responsibility to rescue the astronauts in the event of an emergency. I assist the crew with exiting the orbiter after landing and make certain all equipment is properly removed. I also train fire rescue and medical personnel on capabilities of the Advanced Crew Escape Suits, or ACES. I conduct briefings on how to perform emergency extractions from the orbiter seats, as well as emergency suit removal.
Why are spacesuits needed for launch and landing?
The suit is part of the shuttle egress (or exit) system. If the orbiter were to lose cabin pressure, the suit would inflate automatically to protect the crew member while creating a survivable environment for each crew member.
How did you get your current position?
I received my experience while serving on active duty in the Air Force. I worked on essentially the same equipment that is being used for the shuttle crew members. It was an easy transition. There are only minor differences in the Air Force equipment and the NASA equipment. The ingress process is different, ... [but] the criticality and importance is still the same. My initial position was as a suit technician within Crew Escape Equipment Lab of United Space Alliance. When the opportunity to become an insertion technician presented itself, I volunteered for the position.
Were you involved with NASA as a student in high school or college, and, if so, in what projects were you involved?
Unfortunately I was not. However, as a child I would always like to watch the Apollo launches and thought about working at NASA if I had the opportunity.
What are the challenges your team faces in working with this aspect of spacesuits?
The challenges include maintaining and supplying hardware to support a rigorous training and flight schedule and ensuring equipment is received in flight-ready condition.
As NASA prepares to go back to the moon, what changes will be needed for the design of spacesuits that you support?
A spacesuit able to protect and sustain the astronaut during launch, re-entry and landing, as well be adaptable to the lunar environment, is needed.
What else would you want to tell people about your job or your experiences with astronaut support?
I feel fortunate to have a job like this. Not many people within the NASA family get to interact with the astronauts on a daily basis as well as participate in an integral part of space exploration.
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David Hitt and Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services