End of an Era: The Role of Ascension Island in Shuttle Launches

Major Ingrid C. Kaat is the commander of Detachment 2, 45 Operations Group, Ascension Auxiliary Airfield, Ascension Island, South Atlantic Ocean

We are designated as an Emergency Landing Site and we provide orbital tracking via radar.

We are designated as an Emergency Landing Site and we provide orbital tracking via radar.

There are many sites around the world designated as Emergency Landing Sites, and Detachment 2 at Ascension Island is one of those.

Should the Shuttle encounter an emergency and require landing at our location, my position would assume the role of Incident Commander, and serve as the conduit of information between Detachment 2 and NASA representatives.

The Fire and Security team bear the primary responsibility for dealing with any major incident. Their functions include setting up a convoy, establishing the toxic corridor and security perimeter, and assisting with astronaut egress after landing. Hazardous Materials and Medical Teams would also be called upon. The emergency response required after the landing is highly dependent on the condition of the orbiter and its team. Given the remote location and the relatively small size of Detachment 2, NASA would automatically generate a contingency response force to arrive within 24 hours. For the first 24 hours, the on-island response would indeed be international. We would potentially request medical and fire support from the Ascension Island Government and Royal Air Force.

Ascension Island, South Atlantic Ocean

Ascension Island, South Atlantic Ocean

A second function Detachment 2 fulfills for shuttle support is providing orbital tracking via Radar 12.15. Radar 12.15 at Ascension Island is the only equatorial sensor in the Western Hemisphere, and it is capable of tracking over 200 objects per day. For NASA support specifically, Radar 12.15 is tasked with tracking the International Space Station seven days in advance of a shuttle launch to assist in refining the launch time. In addition, Radar 12.15 may be tasked to track the shuttle while in orbit or during docking and undocking from the Space Station.

For a shuttle launch, Detachment 2 on Ascension Island (shown here) has two primary functions as it pertains to shuttle support which are to be an Emergency Landing Site and to provide orbital tracking.

For a shuttle launch, Detachment 2 on Ascension Island (shown here) has two primary functions as it pertains to shuttle support which are to be an Emergency Landing Site and to provide orbital tracking.

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About Carla Voorhees

Carla Voorhees has always been interested in science, from the time she grew string beans under varying conditions for the science fair (3rd grade) to the time she took every math and science class she could during high school. As her path during college and beyond took her somewhat away from the hard sciences, she is thrilled to be a part of the Armed With Science team. Carla holds a B.S. in Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (2007), and an M.B.A. in Design Strategy from the California College of the Arts (2010). She works as a Web Strategist at DOD Public Web.
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