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News | June 15, 2021

Hawaii, California Guardsmen practice space capsule recovery

By Staff Sgt. John Linzmeier 154th Wing

Hawaii and California Air National Guard Airmen completed a week-long series of search-and-rescue training missions May 21.

The training entailed coordinated airdrops of rescue packages into the Santa Cruz Water Drop Zone by an aircrew from the 204th Airlift Squadron and Guardian Angel rescue teams from the 131st Rescue Squadron. Training scenarios in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program validated crews' abilities to provide rescue support in the event of a contingency landing.

U.S. Space Command is the coordinating authority for all human space flight support operations. 

“This has been an extremely beneficial experience for us all,” Capt. Evan Kurosu, 204th AS exercise planner, said. “This mission is so dynamic, which requires a high level of experience. It pushes us to be flexible and can only be accomplished by working closely with the Human Space Flight Support Operations and the PJ community.”

C-17 Globemaster IIs are fully equipped with pararescue teams, rescue craft and life-support equipment before each transit from earth to orbit and back. Aircraft postured out of Joint-Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, are ready to aid space travelers if capsules land outside of the planned landing sites.

Guardian Angel teams, such as those of 131st RS, require an intense two-year training program and are equipped with heightened recovery skill sets that can be applied in extreme and austere conditions during peacetime and war.

Combining rescue capabilities with a C-17 is a new development in the airlift community, making ongoing training a critical component of mission readiness for all personnel involved. In contrast with smaller and more conventional rescue aircraft, such as HH-60 and HC-130 class airframes, the C-17 can travel farther, faster and is capable of deploying all rescue elements from a single fuselage.

Mission participants were challenged to adjust their operations to a wide range of environmental conditions and logistical factors such as wind, lighting, water conditions, geographic displacement and communication signals, which often push rescuers to come up with alternative approaches at any point during the mission.

To offer contrasting scenarios to the rescue repertoire, participants located and attended to a staged victim who was stranded aboard a mock-space capsule during the initial rescue event, followed by a similar nighttime operation.

Aviators would use telemetry systems and radio communication devices to reach the splashed-downed capsule and would apply a set of search patterns to make visual contact with the astronaut crew during a real-world search-and-rescue mission,

While exercise participants had a clear agenda to practice their rescue competencies, mission planners looked for ways to accomplish additional training requirements.

The C-17 aircrew scheduled and flew a unique low-level sortie on a Military Training Route located near Travis Air Force Base, California, to qualify aviators with evasive maneuvers applicable for their wartime skillset. Guardian Angel pararescuemen also obtained land-based High Altitude Low Opening training required for their jumpmaster upgrade curriculum.

Since the first manned CCP flights started last year, all launches to and from orbit went according to plan, leaving standby rescue crews on the ground at their respective takeoff installations, while primary recovery teams ensured crews were brought back safely.