SpaceX is gearing up to launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station aboard its Crew Dragon space capsule next year. In anticipation of that fated launch, the company is hard at work testing all the various contingency plans.
Most recently, the aerospace company conducted a worst-case-scenario dress rehearsal of its GO Searcher recovery vessel.
The boat will be solely responsible for ensuring the safe recovery of the crew that will eventually splash back down to Earth from the ISS off the coast of Florida. This means it needs to be ready for anything that could impact the safety of the astronauts on board, as well as be ready to quickly sprint them to a hospital if something goes wrong. To make sure the vessel was up to the task, SpaceX engineers spent months retrofitting GO Searcher with a medical treatment facility and a helicopter pad.
The watercraft has two protocols when it comes to picking up astronauts after their stints aboard the ISS, emergency protocol and standard protocol. SpaceX’s additions to the GO Searcher were with an eye toward enabling quick responses to potentially injured crew or other dicey situations.
GO Searcher: Emergency Protocol
In its dress rehearsal, SpaceX showed NASA how it could immediately treat astronauts that might sustain injuries and ferry them to land seamlessly.
For immediate response, GO Searcher’s onboard medical facility can deliver onsite treatment. A helicopter carrying doctors and paramedics will then be dispatched to land from the vessel’s helipad and pick up the astronauts, according to a NASA recap of the rehearsal.
The medical staff aboard the helicopter will evaluate the crew mid-air as they head towards the nearest hospital for further treatment.
GO Searcher: Standard Protocol
If the astronauts land and everyone appears to be uninjured, then Go Searcher will use its rear crane to haul Crew Dragon out of the water and onto the main deck. The onboard medical staff will then check on the astronauts as GO Searcher navigates back to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Once on shore, the crew will head to the closest airport to head back to NASA’s facility in Houston for a debrief.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is working alongside Boeing and SpaceX to usher in a new era of American space flight. With both of these procedures in order, the United States one step closer to launching astronauts into space for the first time since 2011.