Medical teams attended every space shuttle launch and landing
In the aftermath of the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reevaluated its space shuttle medical-support program and contingency plans in case of a launch or landing mishap. Following an in-depth selection process, the agency awarded the shuttle medical department support contract to the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine. The Department of Emergency Medicine supplied physicians who can operate in the pre-hospital environment, and have knowledge of both trauma care and medical resuscitation.
A team of UF physicians, Shands medical staff physicians and Shands nurses from several Shands facilities attended every space shuttle launch and landing. In addition to a potential problem with the shuttle, there are hazardous materials and potential for mass casualties involving Kennedy Space Center staff or the thousands of spectators who attend each event.
The physicians were recruited to supplement and supervise the specially trained NASA emergency medical services team at Kennedy Space Center, and be the first-line medical providers in the event of a disaster requiring life-saving procedures or mental-health services. Columbia’s tragedy upon returning to earth in 2003 highlighted the emergency team’s ability to aid in the psychological aspects of space flight.
The medical-support team completed intense NASA training courses on chemicals, space flight physiology, equipment and escape scenarios. After certification by NASA as a shuttle support physician, the physician is chosen for deployment on launch and landing teams. A board-certified emergency medicine physician leads each team and is joined by physicians from fields of anesthesiology, surgery medicine and critical care. Skills required are ACLS and ATLS certification and expertise in advanced airway, ultrasonography and toxicology. A chartered airplane transports the team to the Kennedy Space Center.
The team reviews detailed briefings on any special medical concerns of the flight crew and medical concerns of the flight crew, and medical forces deployment plans for a number of emergency contingencies before every launch and landing. Team members must be re-certified every three years. Additionally, full scale disaster simulations occur annually at the Kennedy Space Center.