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National Guard supports final Endeavour flight

by Tech. Sgt. John Orrell
National Guard Bureau

5/19/2011 - KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (AFNS) -- Air National Guard members from Illinois, New York and Virginia were on hand for the final launch of NASA's space shuttle Endeavour here May 16.

The Guard members provided front-line medical and emergency rescue support in the event of an incident.

Col. Joe Maslar, the chief of aerospace medicine for the Illinois Air National Guard's 183rd Fighter Wing, volunteered with Col. Frank Yang, the Virginia National Guard state air surgeon, as part of the emergency response team.

"Every time there is a launch, two pararescue jumpers and one flight doctor pre-position themselves between Cape Kennedy and the shuttle landing runway," Col. Maslar said. "If there is some accident or the shuttle has to come back, we then respond on a helicopter and provide initial on-scene triage support."

The New York Air National Guard provided Guard members from the Eastern Air Defense Sector to enforce the Federal Aviation Administration's temporary no-fly zone that was established around Kennedy Space Center.

"The space shuttle launch is one of the special missions that EADS takes great pride in conducting," said Col. John P. Bartholf, the EADS commander. "Enforcing the no-fly restriction ensures a safe, successful launch and supports (North American Aerospace Defense Command's) rapid-response capability."

EADS is a joint force of New York Air National Guard members and a Canadian Forces detachment.

They support NORAD's integrated warning and attack assessment missions and the U.S. Northern Command's homeland defense mission and are responsible for air sovereignty and counter-air operations over the eastern U.S.

Before the mission, Col. Yang and Col. Maslar had to go through an initial two-week course to familiarize them with performing emergency treatment on astronauts.

"We go to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida where we learn space physiology, medical considerations for people who have been in space for a long time, the hazardous material complications that come with the shuttle and we learn how to take someone out of a space suit during an emergency situation," Col. Maslar said.

They also trained on the other specialized equipment and medication they would need to use in the event of an emergency.

Even though he would be dealing with astronauts, Col. Maslar, who is an emergency room doctor in Chicago, Ill., and a flight doctor in the Air National Guard, said he feels that both of his jobs tie in perfectly with a mission of this type.

"As a flight (doctor), I deal with high-altitude flight, space medicine and beyond ... so that extrapolates into the normal aviation experience," he said. "As my civilian job, since I working in an ER and a trauma center, those are the kinds of things you would expect to see if any traumatic incident happened."

Colonel Maslar feels that the Guard is a good fit for this mission since the people who volunteer are doctors in the civilian sector and they can rely on their full-time skills to perform at a high level.

As a member of the launch, Col. Maslar said he wanted to enjoy the experience and felt honored to have been a part of the mission.

"It's a great opportunity with so much history," he said. "Space travel is the pinnacle of human achievement with the most complicated machine created by man, and even though we are just a small response package in the bigger schemes of things ... it's a privilege to be part of the mission."

The space shuttle Endeavor's 25th launch since 1992, which is officially known as Space Transportation System-134, is scheduled to return from the International Space Station June 1. After it returns, it will be an exhibit for the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

(The New York National Guard Public Affairs contributed to this story)

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