Reserve Citizen Airmen prepare for human spaceflight

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kelly Goonan
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

To prepare for the arrival of human spaceflight tests next year, the 920th Rescue Wing along with the DoD Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) Office, NASA and SpaceX personnel joined forces to plan and execute a realistic medical evacuation exercise at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 25.

Their mission was to respond to a simulated emergency incident that required DoD support and expertise. The exercise included twelve participants role-playing various injuries after a launch pad emergency. The DoD HSFS Office planned and coordinated 920th RQW assets which included two HH-60G helicopters from the 301st Rescue Squadron, four pararescuemen (PJ) from the 308th RQS and two flight surgeons from the DoD HSFS Office.

This exercise revalidated the response time of the Reserve Rescue Airmen and aircraft from Patrick Air Force Base., to Kennedy Space Center in the event of a catastrophic, life-threatening occurrence within the capsule of a human spaceflight launch. This was also the first time that the DoD, NASA and commercial providers have exercised this type of event
utilizing live patients and the full array of air assets according to HSFS.

“With our partners at NASA, these exercises are important in developing a foundational understanding of our capabilities and integrating our procedures to better the mission. While today’s exercise was generic, we will continue to build into more advanced rescue scenarios,” said Staff Sgt. Gregg Forshaw, 308th Rescue Squadron pararescueman. “Today is a great example of how we, as Citizen Airmen, provide our expertise, while reflecting on our long history of supporting the NASA. Any chance we can take in highlighting our tactical skills is valuable. Today’s mission focused on getting from the base to the scene, rapidly providing advanced medical support while keeping our patients stable, which is key in preparing for when this mission becomes real. This exercise was vital in determining time management and the treatments that we were able to perform on the casualties.”

Pararescuemen hold a unique position in combat-search-and-rescue missions. Each PJ is trained and equipped to conduct both conventional and unconventional recovery missions. Their motto, That Others May Live, and their trauma medicine capabilities combined with battlefield skills make them special even within the special operations community.      

Since the inception of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, the DoD has provided Human Space Flight Support to NASA.

“The HSFS Office has provided support to NASA's Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs,” explained Brent Maney, HSFS Space Medical Contingency Specialist. “It continues to provide support for Soyuz, Orion, and commercial crew programs (CCPs) because we’re the principle liaison for human spaceflight support operations.”

Maney explained that the DoD HSFS Office assists
CCPs with unique DoD capabilities ensuring the global rescue and recovery of NASA and NASA-sponsored astronauts.

“It’s a unique orchestra between NASA, the Air Force Reserve and active duty; to see everything come together,” Lt. Col. Dave Mahan, DoD HSFS CCP Division Chief said. “The 920th has supported human spaceflight for the last 50 years and we look forward to continuing those trusted relationships long into the future.”

For every human mission launching from Kennedy Space Center for the next fiscal year, 920th RQW Reserve Citizen Airmen will be present to not only clear the range, but also remain on standby in the event of a mishap.

“Our hope is to not ever be needed,” said Lt. Col. Paul Carpenter, 301st Rescue Squadron pilot. “But we’re ready to respond if something were to happen during any launch.”

Carpenter explained that aircraft and crews as well as teams of pararescuemen will be prepositioned, ready and waiting should something happen that necessitates rescue operations. 

“I know that NASA has had a long relationship with the 920th and 45th Space Wing when we were operating shuttle here and we’re looking forward to working with them again,” said Kjell Lindgren, NASA astronaut. “Being able to rely on their assets, people and professionalism really puts our minds at ease that we are all on the same team as we are continuing to march forward with human space exploration.”

When the final mission of the American Space Shuttle Program, Space Transportation System (STS) - 135, launched in July 2011, it marked the end of an era not only for NASA but also for the 920th Rescue Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen who had served as guardians of the NASA astronauts for five decades. That seven-year hiatus will come to an end next summer explained Lt. Col. Mahan.

Patrick is being used as the primary staging location due to its vicinity to Kennedy Space Center and the support provided by Patrick Air Force Base. While rescue is the primary mission of the rescue forces, they can be called on for MEDEVAC if the need arises. The exercise was proof of concept.

With highly trained rescue personnel, the 920th RQW remains ready to support the next era of human spaceflight, willing to meet the needs of NASA’s unique, evolving missions.