Air Force News Service

March 23, 1998

Russians, U.S. cooperating on environment-friendly space launches

By Airman 1st Class Paul Grove, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- A Russian environmental team toured Vandenburg recently as part of a fact-finding conference with the United States on environmental issues related to space launches.

The meeting is part of a series of discussions between the Air Force and Russian Defense Ministry concerning areas of cooperation ranging from environmental issues to the handling of nuclear materials.

"This is an extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty," said Maj. Rob Williams, maintenance supervisor for the 2nd Space Launch Squadron, and project officer. "The primary focus of this visit is the management of hydrazine and hydrazine-based fuels."

Hydrazine is the main fuel source used for almost every launch activity including Titan and Delta launches. Like all liquid propellants, hydrazine has a lot of energy potential and is a very explosive substance. It is also toxic and can prove fatal if ingested, said Williams.

"We went to Space Launch Complex 4 to show the precautions we take to manage, transfer and handle hydrazine," Williams said.

The demonstration included the transfer of hydrazine from tanker trucks into storage tanks, and fuel pumped into a rocket. Safety precautions include facilities and tanks specially selected based on their metals so fuels don't react, corrode and leak out, according to Williams. Also, a Self-Contained Atmospheric Protective Ensemble is used by those transferring hydrazine to help resist the substance.

While the primary focus of the visit was hydrazine and hydrazine-based fuels, the team was also interested in assessing the global impact and reduction of ozone depleting substances.

The Russians were shown the consolidated accumulation point where hazardous waste is collected before being turned over to contractors for disposal, and the hazardous materials pharmacy where hazardous materials can be signed out and transferred, said Williams.

"We took them to these places to show our general philosophy about using the minimum amount and retaining that, so we don't use more hazardous materials than we need," Williams said. "We have an excellent track record in one the toughest counties in the nation.

"This provides an excellent opportunity for good exchange. They are receptive to our programs and we learn from them as well," he said.

Air Force News Service

March 19, 1998

Unit leads joint service team in astronaut rescue training

By Master Sgt. Larry Lentz, 920th Rescue Group Public Affairs

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- Within seconds of launch, a failure of both engines forces the space shuttle to return to the Kennedy Space Center. The astronauts' commander, however, determines that the crippled spacecraft will not make the Shuttle Landing Facility and orders the astronauts to evacuate immediately over the ocean.

The staged retrieval of the seven astronauts, now bobbing in individual life rafts some 150 miles east of Cape Canaveral spread over six miles of ocean, was the focus of a massive annual training exercise March 13.

Conducted by the Department of Defense Manned Space Flight Support Office, or DDMSO, the exercise involved more than 700 people and assets from the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Patrick's 920th Rescue Group, an Air Force Reserve Command unit with primary responsibility for actual rescue contingency operations, played the pivotal role during the day-long event.

Prior to all launches, a 920th HC-130 flies approximately 180 miles down range over the Atlantic.

"The King-One aircraft with its on-scene commander, called the airboss, is prepositioned in the event of a shuttle emergency splashdown," explained Maj. Gene Scamehorn, 39th Rescue Squadron chief of scheduling and the exercise's airboss. "We also have four HH-60 helicopters on strip-alert at the Kennedy Space Center in case of emergency."

During this exercise, the reservists were joined by the USS McInereny, a Navy frigate; the Vigilant, a Coast Guard cutter; a Marine KC-130; a Navy Hawheye E2-C; and a Coast Guard HU-25 Falcon.

The scenario called for the HC-130 to drop inflatable, motorized boats and six pararescue jump specialists for the waiting astronauts. But high winds and rough seas prevented that option; however, six PJ's entered the water as their HH-60s did low and slow maneuvers. They successfully hoisted the astronauts on board where a flight surgeon and the PJs treated began necessary medical treatment.

"The HH-60s are fitted with two specially configured astronaut boxes which contain full medical and surgical kits, and a radio which monitors heartbeats and sends the signals back to home station," said Staff Sgt. Carlos Gonzalez, a flight engineer. "They're like mini-trauma or flying intensive care units."

Scamehorn said the exercise offered an opportunity to try new procedures.

"NASA wanted to test a new way to locate and identify downed astronauts using 50-foot long, color-coded streamers. But, the streamers were hard to see as they failed to 'flow-out' as expected. Any time we can work alongside the other services, our learning curve goes up exponentially. DDMSO is compiling our comments for future improvements."

"We proved that the group can exceed NASA requirements," said Lt. Col. Robert Marzig. 920th RQG flight operations team chief. "Their standards call for us to locate and retrieve the astronauts within six hours. We picked-up the first one in 45 minutes and the last one less than two hours later.

Members of the 920th RQG may get a chance to put their training to the test April 16 when they once again fly rescue support during a scheduled launch of the Atlantis.

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