NASA astronauts train with Air Force survival school instructors
Four NASA astronauts sit in with a class of survival school students being briefed on life raft procedures at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Feb. 10, 2017. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan Lackey
The astronauts underwent the training in preparation for anticipated test flights of the new commercially made American rockets, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Dragon.
“It’s a different space program now,” said astronaut Sunita Williams. “We’re flying in capsules instead of shuttles, and they can land anywhere. You never know when an emergency situation may happen, so we’re grateful to get this training.”
The astronauts were put through the paces of bailing out from a simulated crash landing in water. They learned to deploy and secure a life raft, rescue endangered crew members, avoid hostile forces and experience being hoisted into a rescue vehicle.
“This is the first time we’ve gotten a complete environmental training experience — lots of wind, waves and rain,” said astronaut Doug Hurley. “This is a great way to experience how bad it can get and how important it is to be prepared.”
Trained With Course’s Students
The astronauts opted to join in with more than 20 water survival course students, despite being given the option to train alone.
“They didn’t want to train on their own,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Chas Tacheny, the chief of NASA human space flight support in Houston. “They wanted to train with the group, because some of these people may one day be preforming search and rescue for them.”
Other NASA astronauts visited the survival school last year in an effort to research and test the viability of its training course and facilities. The astronauts liked what they experienced, and NASA has since developed its training partnership with the schoolhouse.
“The [survival, evasion, resistance and escape] instructors are advising us in water recovery,” Behnken said. “These experts are the most experienced I’ve ever seen. They are able to spot holes in our training and fill the gaps.”
NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston has a large water training facility built to simulate weightless conditions during space walks, but it’s not properly equipped to simulate water surface conditions for recovery training.
This training is vital for future mission recovery operations, Behnken said, noting that NASA officials are working with the experts here to replicate the survival school water survival training equipment at the Houston facility.
“I’m impressed by the use of the facilities here,” Williams said. “It’s a small space, but they really manage to simulate all kinds of weather conditions and situations we might experience during a water landing.”
The survival school originally had a separate detachment at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where it conducted water survival training in open ocean waters. The training was brought to Fairchild in August 2015 in an effort to save time and money by consolidating training at one location.
“It was a good decision for the Air Force to streamline our training efforts by moving all portions of water survival training here,” said Air Force Col. John Groves, the 336th Training Group commander. “However, the fitness center pool was designed for recreational use and isn’t suited to the ever-increasing demands placed on it by our training programs. Bottom line, we owe it to our airmen and mission partners such as NASA, who rely on our unique training capabilities, to have a purpose-built water survival training facility.”
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