NASA Podcasts

Space Shuttle Era: The Cape Crusaders
07.22.11
 
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NARRATOR:
When astronauts climb into the space shuttle before launch, they are thinking of many aspects of the liftoff and coming mission. That's why there is another astronaut on-hand to help the crew get strapped in and ready for the flight.

STAN LOVE:
You've got your mind on a lot of stuff when you're getting into the shuttle and getting ready to launch into space and hooking up connections isn't always top of your priority list.

NARRATOR:
Following their basic astronaut training, many astronauts are assigned to Astronaut Support Personnel duties.

CHRIS HADFIELD:
As an astronaut you try to learn so many things so that as a rookie when you come up you know what to expect and there are only a few jobs that really teach you what to expect and one of them is to be working here at the Cape, at the Kennedy Space Center as an astronaut support personnel.

NARRATOR:
They are known then as ASPs, or Cape Crusaders, since they work at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They are also called C-squareds.

HADFIELD:
Working at the Cape, Cape Crusader, C-squared, whatever you want to call it, and I learned so much about how the vehicles get ready, about the attitude at KSC, and about what it is to be one of the crew members getting in and out of the vehicle. Just a great job to have as a new astronaut.

NARRATOR:
The ASPs work with the closeout crew, the handful of technicians who oversee the pre-launch preparations and also help get the crew in place. Before the crew arrives at the launch pad, the Closeout Crew sets the switches to launch positions and readies the seats for the mission's astronauts.

HADFIELD:
It's a very well-polished process. The Closeout Crew up in the White Room really know their job. They're expert and they see us astronauts roll through and they take good care of us and they make sure we don't miss a step. And you as the astronaut support personnel, you're helping with that process, but really those guys have the responsibility. You get in, you make sure things are good and you make sure none of the switches are bumped and you take care of the things that you're responsible for.

NARRATOR:
The work is unusual because the space shuttle is standing on its tail, so the crew compartment is tilted and the seats that would normally be on the floor appear to be hung on the wall. This means the ASPs, technicians and astronauts have to step carefully and literally climb into their seats, throwing their legs up over their heads to get into position.

STEVE SWANSON:
We pretty much say we just lay there and they do all the work for you. If you try to help, you actually hinder them, one of those type of situations.

NARRATOR:
Astronauts have long supported their peers leading up to launch. More than 50 years ago, astronaut John Glenn helped Alan Shepard get inside the small Mercury capsule before the launch on May 5, 1961, that would make Shepard the first American in space.

Astronaut Doug Hurley led the ASP crew that helped the STS-107 crew strap in before the launch of Columbia in January 2003. When that crew was lost to an accident during re-entry, Hurley said he thought a lot about seeing them for the last time on the launch pad.

DOUG HURLEY:
Obviously it was hard on the entire country and on the astronaut corps, but to lose seven people, you know, that you're close to and then it makes you kind of dig deep and look down inside yourself and ask if this is really what you want to do and if it's worth it and if it's the right thing and I was convinced it was, but still it was a very tough few years to get through that, the aftermath of the accident.

NARRATOR:
When the crew of Discovery boarded the spacecraft for the return to flight mission, STS-114, fellow astronauts were at their side to strap them into their seats. Hurley worked with the second return-to-flight mission, STS-121, as the ASP.

Along with the personal help from the ASPs comes a generous dose of technical expertise.

STAN LOVE:
There are numerous communication checks with the flight director in Houston, with the OTC and NTD here at the Cape and they all have names and you can never remember who it is and it's wonderful to have the C-squareds and the strap-in crew there, leaning right over you, leaning in your face saying "Your OTCs name is such and such, you're going to tell them this at this time "and so it's really a great help to have them walking you through this step by step on a day when you're really trying to think about other things.

NARRATOR:
Other aspects of the work involve simple camaraderie.

SWANSON:
But it's a fantastic thing and the ASP, the person who puts you in, the one who actually buttons you up, who tightens you up, all the belts, is usually a friend of yours too. So it's kind of nice to have that face as the last face as they go out the door and close the hatch, that that's who you see.

NARRATOR:
As they work on the precision steps that go with getting their crew ready to launch, the ASPs know they will get a chance themselves to climb in for a space flight themselves.

HADFIELD:
It's really nice when then it's your turn to be wearing the pumpkin suit and standing there and having those guys joke with you as they put all the harness and everything on and crawl in on your hands and knees and spin yourself around and get on your back and have yourself basically bolted into the vehicle to get ready for launch.

NARRATOR:
The ASPs and technicians know how important their work is to a successful launch day, though it is part of the precise choreography involving specialists, technicians and engineers from across many fields.

HADFIELD:
It's just one more link in an endless chain of counting on the expertise of so many people that allows a crew and a shuttle to launch.
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