DoD-led exercise simulates shuttle bailout

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- Department of Defense personnel conducted an exercise in search and rescue operations May 31 to ensure their readiness to support upcoming Space Shuttle launches.

The exercise, known as Mode VIII, the NASA designation for an astronaut bailout of the space shuttle, simulated the bailout of seven astronauts into the Atlantic Ocean 275 nautical miles from the Kennedy Space Center launch site.

There are eight contingency modes for the space shuttle. Modes I-VII are led by NASA with support from Department of Defense forces. Mode VIII is led by the Department of Defense since it relies heavily on the capabilities of DoD forces.

Scheduled annually, but historically executed approximately every two years, Mode VIII exercises practice "the ability of search and rescue forces to locate, recover, and provide medical treatment for astronauts following an open ocean bailout."

The 45th Space Wing's Office of Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) planned and organized the exercise, which involved roughly 150 people from the Air Force and other services, said Lt. Col. John Youngs, HSFS chief of plans.

The 920th Rescue Wing provided pararescuemen, an HC-130 and four HH-60 helicopters, while the 106th Rescue Wing based at Gabreski Airport in New York provided an HC-130 aircraft. The Marine Corps provided a KC-130 tanker aircraft for the helicopters. U.S. Navy water survival instructors were provided by Detachment 2 of the 66th Training Squadron based in Pensacola, and the Coast Guard furnished an HU-25 Falcon jet, as well as the cutter Shrike.

While HSFS organized the exercise, the U.S. Northern Command Joint Task Force headed command and control during the search, the first time NORTHCOM has done so, said Colonel Youngs.

After the "survivors" were plucked from the ocean, they were taken to Halifax Hospital in Daytona and Shands Hospital in Jacksonville. There, civilian medical workers reviewed the procedures for aiding people in the suits astronauts wear. Each survivor carried a card describing the injuries they'd received.

"It was a great success," said Lt. Col. James Seaward, HSFS chief. "We met all our objectives. We exercised NORTHCOM's command and control capability, and they did exceptionally well."