PATRICK SPACE FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Throughout the years, the space launch industry has undergone a tremendous transformation, propelled by groundbreaking technological advancements. Media outlets and spectators capture breathtaking launches up close from secure locations just outside the hazard zones.
Just beyond these hazard zones, the 45th Medical Readiness Operations Squadron bioenvironmental experts valiantly work to test and guarantee the toxic fumes stay within the designated boundaries in the event of an anomaly.
Equipped with advanced personal protective equipment, bioenvironmental personnel are effectively shielded from the chemical hazards encountered within the designated hazard zone.
Some of the equipment includes a chemical-resistant suit, M7 air mask, and a self-contained breathing apparatus.
"When gearing up, we meticulously tape the chemical-resistant suit to seal all openings, creating a secure barrier against potentially harmful chemicals," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shannon Slosser, 45th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of bioenvironmental engineering flight. "This attention to detail is crucial in safeguarding our team members from potential exposure during space launch operations."
In case of an anomaly, these experts are already placed in the direct path of the chemicals called the plume.
Monitoring and managing the plume is essential to the safety of personnel and the environment.
Airmen are equipped with various meters to secure readings in the area, observing them twice to ensure accuracy They take readings at T-50 minutes, T-10 minutes, and shortly after launch.
“We primarily focus on hazards like hydrazine, HCl, and NO2, establishing a hazard corridor to ensure safety,” said Slosser. “By monitoring air samples and plume validation, we safeguard the well-being of people residing within a 30-mile radius.”
The level of exposure to certain chemicals can increase based on the type of launch.
“Depending on the mission, certain launches can be high risk due to various hazards associated with different components,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Kevin Moy, 45th Operational Medical Readiness Squadrons bioenvironmental flight commander.
Along with monitoring various other hazards, the bioenvironmental team also monitors noise levels.
"Monitoring noise exposure is crucial for our security forces members who face potential hearing damage from rocket noise and other sources," said Staff Sgt. Natasha Anderson, 45th Operational Medical Readiness Squadrons non-commissioned officer in charge of readiness and response operations. "Collecting accurate data helps us quantify their daily exposure, ensuring we can identify and mitigate overexposure risks, and maintain their long-term health."
Both chemical and noise hazards highlight the comprehensive approach the bioenvironmental team takes in ensuring safety.
"The launch mission is just as significant as our day-to-day industrial hygiene mission, requiring extensive manpower, equipment maintenance, and training to ensure readiness at all times," said Moy. "It demands a significant amount of our resources, leaving us fully dedicated to being proficient in both our bioenvironmental work and the launch mission."