Members of Air Force Reserve Command’s 920th Rescue Wing recently rehearsed rescue operations with NASA astronauts at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Center Lab in Houston and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Rehearsing astronaut rescues is nothing new for the airmen, who were on call during 50 years of launches before the human spaceflight program ended in July 2011, according to a release. NASA plans to launch crews aboard the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecrafts from US soil to the International Space Station in the near future, and the rehearsals allow for rescue technique refinement. Each rehearsal focuses on a different aspect of recovery operation. At the Langley Research Center, pararescuers worked with NASA engineers to perfect how to climb aboard and stabilize a CST-100 Starliner mockup in a large pool. In an earlier exercise, airmen practiced rescuing astronauts off the Florida coast. “Exercises like this are extremely important to the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures, as well as practicing and refining communication protocols between the flight crew and ground support teams for both NASA and the Defense Department,” said Tim O’Brien, of the Commercial Crew Program’s Ground and Mission Operations Office, according to the release. (See also NASA release.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.