by Greg Lohning
Interviewer: Brandt Secosh
June 28, 2000
The job has just begun after the closeout crew has
secured the astronauts into the orbiter in preparation for launch. As
Greg Lohning mentioned in his biography, "in the event of an emergency,
most people are trained to evacuate the launch area - the closeout crew
is trained to go back into the area to rescue the crew". During launch,
the closeout crew is about 3-1/2 miles from the launch site. The closeout
crew trains for all kinds of launch related emergency scenarios. One of
the responsibilities of this team of volunteers - that's right, volunteers
- is to save the lives of the astronauts in the event of an emergency
- knowingly risking their own life!
In most cases the environment at the launch pad will
be very risky. Hypergolic fuel will be present, potential fire, limited
visibility due to smoke and in almost all conditions water will be sprayed
into the area from the fire suppression system. This fire suppression
system sprays 5,000 gallons of water per minute into the area and gives
the crew a few extra minutes to get the astronauts out of the orbiter
and to safety. For these reasons the closeout crewmembers are equipped
with liquid airpacks that they carry on their backs. The airpacks weigh
about 45 pounds and protect the crew from breathing in the harmful vapors
that may be present. The liquid airpack provides protection for about
45 minutes to one hour. The closeout suit is flame retardant and anti-static.
The cost for each suit - about $3500.00 each! The closeout crew practices
extraction techniques with this equipment and the astronauts each year
at Johnson Space Center, and here at the Kennedy Space Center.
If the crew becomes incapacitated, the job can get
really tough. The astronauts are also wearing their launch suits that
weigh 80 lbs. Imagine being a closeout crewmember, wearing all of this
gear and lifting an astronaut that has a body weight of 180 pounds and
flight gear 80 or more pounds. Now imagine doing this in a dark, smoke-filled
environment with water being sprayed all over. Greg points out that each
of the astronauts wears an red glow light on their arms so they can be
located. The closeout crewmembers wear yellow lights for identification.
In most cases three of the closeout crewmembers will
get the astronauts out of the orbiter and place them on the floor of the
whiteroom. The astronauts are then placed in rescue chairs and rolled
over to the slidewire rescue baskets. Two unconscious astronauts are place
in each basket along with one closeout crewmember. The slidewire rescue
basket is then released and begins a very fast slide to the landing area
at the base of the bunker. Two fire-rescue personnel are waiting at the
landing area to assist in getting the astronauts out. Then astronauts
are taken to the bunker. In the event of a life-threatening injury the
astronauts are placed in the m113 tank, armored personnel carrier (APC)
and we evacuate the launch pad. Each of the closeout crewmembers is trained
to drive the APC, as well as the astronauts.
Greg speaks for the entire closeout crew when he says that they
take this responsibility very seriously. He stresses teamwork not only
about the closeout crew but also about the job that everyone in the space
program does. He does point out that members of the closeout crew are
the last people to see the astronauts before they begin their journey
to space. At this point, the crewmembers have trained with the astronauts
and have formed a professional and personal bond with the astronauts .
Once the crew hatch is closed, Greg points out that there is a sobering
feeling of responsibility not only to the astronauts but also to their
families. In this accompanying photograph Greg poses with astronaut Eileen
Collins. Please note her comments on this photograph.
Let's put it all together now with a series of pictures
from Greg showing the closeout crew in action! Click on any of the pictures
to view it in a larger size.
In closing, most of us see the closeout crew in the
whiteroom securing the astronauts into the orbiter prior to launch. I
was not aware, until now, that this same crew had so many more responsibilities!
To each of the closeout crewmembers - Thanks for the job you do!