Rescuers at the Ready
Rescue teams at NASA's Kennedy Space Center recently sharpened their skills during a simulation of a launch pad emergency.
Volunteers suited up to play astronauts who would need to be evacuated from Launch Pad 39-A during a fictional countdown. The scenario was scripted to begin during the time when the flight crew would be strapping into their Space Shuttle, with the assistance of a closeout crew, in the 195-foot level white room.
Image at Right: In preparation for the drill, workers posing as astronauts suited up near the emergency baskets on the 195-foot level of Launch Pad 39-A. Image credit: NASA
The drill required the emergency responders in full gear to rush up the launch tower amid a deluge of water spraying from the fire-suppression system. The simulation called for the evacuees to board the emergency egress baskets on the opposite side of the launch tower.
Image at Left: Rescuers faced the difficult task of removing the "injured" workers from the egress arm while being showered by the powerful water spray from the pad's fire-suppression system. Image credit: NASA
The "rescue" scenario involved two astronauts who would already have been inside the orbiter, two preparing to enter it from the white room area, three who were about to board, and members of the closeout crew. Some "incapacitated" evacuees were carried to the baskets using special equipment.
In a real launch pad evacuation, the baskets would have been released to carry the injured and incapacitated workers and astronauts to a ground-level bunker via slidewires. During this simulation, the baskets were not released, but the drill resumed on the ground where a second set of baskets was used to rehearse removing the "injured" to the bunker for safety.
Image at Right: The practice moved to the ground level as the "injured" workers were removed from baskets positioned at the end of the slidewires. Image credit: NASA
After a move was declared safe, rescue workers carried the "incapacitated" crewmembers from the bunker to armored personnel carriers that moved them away from the pad area to a triage site for further assessment of their "injuries."
Image at Left: A closeout crew member is carried from the bunker to a waiting armored personnel carrier that will transport him to a triage area. Image credit: NASA
From the triage site, helicopters were used to fly four of the "injured" people to three hospitals in the surrounding counties, capping off the realistic drill that was designed to test response, coordination and communication on all levels.
Image at Right: A medical helicopter prepares to fly one of the drill participants to an area hospital. Image credit: NASA
Astronaut Alan G. Poindexter was on hand to watch the emergency drill and spoke to the media about the importance of these rehearsals in preparation for a safe Return to Flight.
He stressed that in the unlikely event of an emergency at the pad, it is critical for everyone involved to know their jobs to help in providing a quick and safe evacuation.
Image at Left: During preparation for the simulation, astronaut Alan G. Poindexter answered questions from the news media gathered at the pad to watch the drill unfold. Image credit: NASA
Cheryl L. Mansfield
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center