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TCDT: Almost the Real Thing
Before every space shuttle launch, astronauts and ground crews prepare for liftoff with training and a full launch dress rehearsal at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
For more than 27 years, Travis Tod Thompson, Closeout Crew lead with United Space Alliance, has been part of the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test, or TCDT, training activities at Kennedy.
"TCDT is a great time for us to get to know the crew and for them to get to know us. We go through this dry count -- it's like a dress rehearsal. We get to know what their comfort level is, what they're going to need on launch day, and it helps launch day to go smoother when we get to do this."
TCDT training gives the flight crew a chance to review launch procedures, check the fit of their spacesuits, practice launch pad evacuations, and check out their mission's cargo in the shuttle's payload bay.
The slidewire baskets have been part of the pad's emergency egress system since STS-1 but have never been used for an emergency.
Training for the unexpected on the launch pad, though, is nevertheless a staple during TCDT.
"This is the primary egress route, if we had to evacuate the White Room in a hurry we would egress down this yellow path here. There's Fire-X nozzles that spray heavy amounts of water on us and the flight crew as we'd be egressing. So, the reason this pad is painted yellow with black chevrons is to -- because with all the water coming into your face you can only really see your feet. So we follow this, we call it the 'yellow brick road' and it will take us straight to the egress to the slidewire baskets."
The astronauts also receive instruction on driving the M-113 armored personnel carriers as part of their emergency pad escape training. Every crew member gets a chance to drive the M-113 instructed by Kennedy's fire chief. Thompson also is there to lend a hand.
"This gives me a good time to get to know the crew a little bit on a comfortable basis -- before we really have to do a lot of work. And it's fun for them and they like it."
In addition to pad and field training, the commander and pilot practice touch-and-go landings in NASA's Shuttle Training Aircraft -- Gulfstream jets that have been modified to simulate the orbiter's unpowered, high-speed glide at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility.
TCDT wraps up with a full launch dress rehearsal where the astronauts climb into their launch and entry suits and helmets and step into NASA's Astrovan for a short trip to the launch pad's White Room on the 195-foot level.
There, Thompson and his team are waiting to help the crew members board the shuttle.
Once on board, the astronauts go through the entire launch sequence, stopping just before the main engines start. At that point training is over and in just a couple of weeks they'll return to do the real thing.
"One of my main duties is to watch out for them on launch day -- their safety and their comfort. I take a lot of pride in that and I'm happy to say some of them are my friends."
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