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Early in the morning along the east central Florida coast, rescue teams on land, sea and in the air sprang to action.
Helicopters were silhouetted against the sky.
Boats cut through the choppy seas.
Military leaders huddled over computer monitors displaying real-time tracking.
It was only a drill, but the scenario played out like a real space shuttle launch-day emergency.
The shuttle search and rescue drill was a cooperative effort between NASA and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
It simulated an emergency situation where a space shuttle crew would need to bail out of their orbiter after liftoff and be rescued from the Atlantic Ocean.
The exercise known as a Mode eight was made as realistic as possible with complicated medical and communications challenges that would be experienced in a real bail-out situation.
The shuttle crew in the drill was made up of real astronauts and volunteers, with each assigned various medical needs during the rescue.
Unlike other such drills in the past, this one concentrated on a launch path that will be used during space shuttle Atlantis' STS-125 Hubble repair mission this fall.
After liftoff, the shuttle will head directly eastward out over the Atlantic Ocean instead of curving closer to the coast putting a rescue effort farther out to sea.
This was the fifteenth Mode eight drill with the first conducted almost 20 years ago.
And while a sea rescue of a shuttle crew is the most complicated, it is just one of several emergency rescue drills conducted regularly.
The teams involved in the Mode eight were able to sharpen their skills while demonstrating their ability to recover astronauts quickly and provide en route medical care.
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