From the time the space shuttle returns from a mission until it's time to fly again, a lot of work goes into keeping spacesuits ready to use. Raymond Cuevas is part of a team that maintains the Advanced Crew Escape Suits that astronauts wear during launch and landing.
What is your job and how do you support astronauts for space travel?
I am a United Space Alliance suit technician working on the Advanced Crew Escape Suit that the astronauts use for launch and landing. Our department is responsible for all the processing and support work that is involved with this equipment. We do all the maintenance and repair work on the suit and all the preflight testing before launch. We also support crew training here at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, so the astronauts can learn how to use the equipment in their mission. Then before launch we travel to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and we suit up the astronauts and strap them into the space shuttle. Then on landing day we are there to recover the suits and return them to Houston so we can start preparing for the next mission.
Why are spacesuits needed for launch and landing?
After the loss of the space shuttle Challenger, NASA decided to give the astronauts more protective equipment and a way to bail out of the shuttle if it is in controlled level flight. Our suit is designed to protect the crew from the loss of atmospheric pressure and is built very similar to the high-altitude pressure suits worn by military pilots. Our system also comes with a parachute and a life raft, so if there was a problem with the shuttle the astronauts can bail out over the ocean and be rescued.
How did you get your current position?
I used to be a technician working on the extravehicular activity, or EVA, suit before I transferred into this department.
Were you involved with NASA as a student in high school or college, and, if so, in what projects were you involved?
I was not involved with NASA, but I have always been a big fan and very enthusiastic about supporting the space program.
What are the challenges your team faces in working with this aspect of spacesuits?
There are many technical challenges with our equipment. For example, we have just completed an upgrade to our communications system, and we are still working to change our processing to the new equipment. We also have many organization and schedule challenges because we have to work around the astronaut schedules.
What else would you want to tell people about your job or your experiences with astronaut support?
Our job is unique at NASA; we get to go places that few people get to go and see things that few people get to see. It's like having a front row seat to the space program. But that's what NASA is, many talented people doing their own highly specialized jobs, all working together to safely fly in space.
NASA's Johnson Space Center
NASA's Kennedy Space Center
NASA Higher Education Projects
David Hitt and Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services