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Military Providing Security, Emergency Response for Shuttle Mission

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 13, 2005 – As Discovery gets set to lift off from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., today, North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command are on duty, prepared to support the "Return to Flight" mission.

Military air, land and sea assets are in place to support two distinct missions: providing security and standing ready to provide search-and-rescue assistance, if needed, according to Mike Kucharek, media chief for NORAD and NORTHCOM.

DoD has a long history of supporting the space program, dating back to Project Mercury in the 1950s. The department's unique capabilities, from surveillance assets to space systems to search-and-rescue units, make it a valuable partner to NASA, Kucharek said.

Speaking from the Kennedy Space Center, Kucharek said NORAD, which is responsible for air defense of the North American airspace, is enforcing the temporary flight restrictions over the shuttle and its path. Six Air Force F-15 aircraft are enforcing the temporary no-fly zone, centered on Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B.

In addition to ensuring Discovery's safety and security for the launch and landing, NORAD is also prepared to respond to any shuttle emergency, he said.

Meanwhile, NORTHCOM is prepared to provide a wide range of support in the event of an emergency - from locating and retrieving astronauts to recovering the orbiter, Kucharek said.

Numerous Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aircraft and Navy and Coast Guard ships are pre-positioned or on standby to quickly launch to conduct search-and-rescue operations.

Twenty Air Force pararescue members from Moody Air force Base, Ga.; Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.; and Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., are on site.

In addition, aircraft supporting the mission include an Air Force Reserve/Air National Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft and four Air Force Reserve HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters from Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.; an Air National Guard HC-130 from F.S. Gabreski Airport, N.Y.; a Marine KC-130 tanker from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.; two Navy P-3 Orion aircraft from Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, and NAS Jacksonville, Fla.; and two Navy E-2C Hawkeye warning and control aircraft from NAS Norfolk, Va.

The guided missile cruiser USS Gettysburg, sailing out of Cape Canaveral, Fla., will provide command and control for any rescue operations, with an SH-60 Seahawk helicopter aboard.

Military units at seven sites along the intended flight path are on alert to support an emergency landing during the launch, and NASA has designated emergency landing sites at 15 U.S. military facilities, as well as other locations around the world, Kucharek said.

The Spanish military and French Air Force are on alert to provide support at transatlantic abort landing, if needed.

Although the shuttle is scheduled to return to Kennedy Space Center, alternate landing sites can quickly be readied to support a shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.; or Holloman Air Force Base/White Sands Space Harbor, N.M.

DoD personnel and assets made valuable contributions following the Columbia disaster in February 2003. National Guard Civil Support Teams from Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma helped identify and handle debris from the shuttle. The Texas Guard provided 118 other personnel, two OH-58D Kiowa helicopters, five UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, four AH-64 Apache choppers and a C-130 Hercules aircraft.

In Louisiana, the Guard helped man the State Emergency Operations Center and provided vehicles and helicopters. Immediately following the disaster, numerous active-duty military aircraft conducted searches. Helicopters from Fort Hood, Texas, aided in finding and protecting debris. Air Force planes and helicopters searched the area and helped pinpoint the debris field. Other aircraft transported personnel and equipment to the area, and a Coast Guard cutter searched the Gulf of Mexico. Debris from the strewn wreckage was sent to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., for storage and further review. The then-National Imagery and Mapping Agency aided U.S. Strategic Command and NASA in analyzing the debris.

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