Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Astronauts Train For Launch Pad Emergency

Shuttle Endeavour's astronauts will be taking a driver's education class today, learning how to operate armored personnel carriers they would use to evacuate from Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A in the event of a launch-day emergency.

Mission commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates all will take a turn this afternoon driving an M-113 armored personnel carrier -- a tank-like vehicle that could break through the perimeter gate that surrounds the launch tower and haul injured astronauts to a nearby heliport for transportation to a central Florida hospital.

The crew includes pilot Gregory "Box" Johnson and four mission specialists: Greg Chamitoff, Andrew "Drew" Feustel, Michael Fincke and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency.

The fully tracked vehicles are capable of cross-country travel over rough terrain and could make their way through the marshlands that surround pad 39A if need be.

Just about everything you could ever want to know about the M113 is HERE.

Also on the schedule today: the astronauts will inspect their cargo in the shuttle's expansive payload bay. They will be hauling the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer -- a sophisticated high-energy particle detector -- and a spare parts pallet up to the International Space Station during a 14-day mission slated for launch April 19.

Kelly and Johnson will cap the day with a series of approach and landing drills in NASA's Shuttle Training Aircraft -- a Gulfstream II that is modified to mimic the shuttle's steep dive to the runway.

Check out this first-person account and video of a training run prior to the 39th and final flight of shuttle Discovery: What's It Like To Land A Shuttle?

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge the NASA images of Mark Kelly (top) and Greg Chamitoff driving the M113 armored personnel carrier during training for the STS-124 launch back in 2008. You can also click the enlarged images to get a bigger, more detailed view. Photo Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

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