Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ramstein Airmen support NASA shuttle launch

by Airman 1st Class Alexandria Mosness, 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- Ramstein Air Base Airmen teamed up with New York Air National Guard members to support NASA's launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis in May here.

Members of the 37th Airlift Squadron, 1st Combat Communications Squadron and the Guard's 101st Expeditionary Rescue Squadron loaded rescue cargo into two C-130 Hercules on the flightline in the event of an emergency on the space shuttle, which launched May 11.

Each unit was on standby for the launch of the Atlantis, in case of an in-flight emergency where the shuttle crew would have to bail out.

"Today, we are headed to Moron, Spain, to be prepositioned for the launch on May 11," said Maj. Shawn Fitzgerald, a 101st ERQS combat rescue officer. "We are the support contingency if the shuttle crew has to bail out. We will stay on alert and in contact with the Joint Personnel Recovery Center in Florida.

"We have equipment to help us out if a situation arises," Major Fitzgerald said. "In case of an emergency, we throw out the rigging alternate method, a zodiac boat with parachutes on it, and then the pararescuemen will jump out after the boats. Along with dry suits, water protective equipment and medical gear; we have the ability to get anyone, anywhere."

While supporting NASA is a unique mission, the pararescuemen do not let this thought get in the way of their job.

"We are well trained for this type of mission," Major Fitzgerald said. "Whether it's a shuttle astronaut or an Air Force pilot, we will rescue them. The only difference is it is a crew instead of just one person, but we will get them."

With the precautionary measures being taken in preparation for the Atlantis takeoff, everyone involved realized their efforts are strictly precautionary.

"This system was developed after the Challenger exploded on launch," Major Fitzgerald said. "Every since then, we have not had any astronauts have to bail out."

Although the pararescuemen have more than sufficient training, they would not be able to do their mission without the support of 1st CBCS Airmen.

"We are providing information to support the pararescuemen," said Staff Sgt. Steven Humphrey, a 1st CBCS satellite communications technician. "We provide communication support between the John F. Kennedy Space Center near Cape Canaveral, Fla., and the aircraft."

Without that valuable communication link, the pararescuemen would not know where to jump.

"We will pass the data onto the pararescuemen, and we will keep the plane flying around the right area," Sergeant Humphrey said.

Even though 37th AS pilots fly this mission about twice a year, they do not take it any less serious.

"We are prepositioning for an emergency response," said Capt. Siobhan Celusta, the 37th AS flight commander. "This is one of the most important missions the 37th does. We're such a vital part to the mission for NASA. Knowing that we are there to stand by in case of an emergency is pretty noble, and I am proud to be a part of that."