Worn by astronauts during space shuttle launches and landings, the orange Advanced Crew Escape Suits are far more than stylish space gear. The suits include numerous features to protect astronauts and provide survival resources if something goes wrong. The suits must be carefully prepared for flight, and care must be taken when astronauts put them on to make sure everything is where it should be. Sharon McDougle manages a team that makes sure astronauts are properly dressed when launch time arrives.
What is your job, and how do you support astronauts for space travel?
I am the manager of United Space Alliance's Flight Crew Equipment: Crew Escape Equipment Lab. Our department provides the Advanced Crew Escape Suit, or ACES, ensemble for astronaut crew training and space shuttle missions. The ACES (the orange suit) is worn during launch and landing. A team of technicians are assigned to each mission to support the astronaut crews. Our team assists the astronaut crews in donning and doffing the suit, as well as strapping the crew into the shuttle before launch and recovering the crew upon landing.
Why are spacesuits needed for launch and landing?
The ACES ensemble is important in case of an emergency situation aboard the shuttle, such as a loss of cabin pressure or a bailout scenario.
How did you get your current position?
I received my initial eight years of pressure suit training in the United States Air Force. After departing the Air Force, I was fortunate enough to continue my career with USA (United Space Alliance) as a Crew Escape Equipment Pressure Suit Technician/Crew Chief for 14 years before becoming the manager of this awesome team!
What are the challenges your team faces in working with this aspect of spacesuits?
There are constant challenges in the Crew Escape Equipment world, from meeting astronaut training schedules to equipment/procedure upgrades/changes. We're in a unique situation where we actually supply Class I gear (gear that is actually used in spaceflight) for some astronaut crew training events. This same equipment may be needed for an assigned shuttle mission. During training, the equipment can be damaged and require repairs, so we have to be vigilant in our inspections/testing.
What else would you want to tell people about your job or your experiences with astronaut support?
Working in the Crew Escape Equipment department is one of the BEST jobs in the aerospace industry! Our team works up close and personal with the astronauts, travels to NASA's Kennedy Space Center to support the shuttle launches and landing, and is (a) key player in the shuttle launch success. I am very proud and fortunate to be a part of the USA team!
NASA's Johnson Space Center
NASA's Kennedy Space Center
David Hitt and Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services