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NASA names MacDill landing site for space shuttle

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials have named this base an alternate landing site for space shuttle missions.

Alternate sites are typically selected based on weather conditions or the power level of the shuttle during re-entry.

Software updates to the shuttles’ landing programs make it possible to land at more locations than previously available, said Marty Linde, director of landing support at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"The new software, which was scheduled to be installed before the accident last year, expands the possible landing sites from 25 to 45," said Mr. Linde.

One of the key reasons for MacDill being chosen was its location, said Mr. Linde.

"We went with what made the most sense geographically," he said.

As the processing and launch site of the space shuttle, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., is the preferred end-of-mission landing site for the shuttle orbiter. Since MacDill is only 138 miles away from Kennedy, it is roughly 2,500 miles closer than the main site used in the past as an alternate, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Landing the orbiter here instead of in California saves processing time for its next mission and the expense of returning it to NASA. A local landing also reduces the time the shuttle would be exposed to the uncertainties and potential dangers of a ferry trip atop one of NASA's two modified Boeing 747 shuttle carrier aircraft.

"There aren't too many agencies on base that wouldn't be affected [if the shuttle should land there]," said Mr. Linde.

From air traffic control to fire, crash and rescue, as well as security forces and medical personnel, there are hundreds of people on base who would be involved. That is along with the team of more than 500 Department of Defense, NASA and contracted civilians from various agencies throughout the country.

MacDill workers will undergo extensive training in late April to support a shuttle landing. Training will be spearheaded by the DOD's manned space flight support office at Patrick AFB, Fla.

Maj. Russell Wood, deputy chief of the training division here, said the initial "turn around brief," includes three days of training covering multiple aspects of shuttle operations.

"It's basically 'Space Shuttle 101'," said Major Wood. "The majority of the training is for on-scene commanders, but will also include the full gambit of those who would be involved in an emergency landing.'"

All training aspects will be covered in-depth long before the shuttle is scheduled to launch again in March 2005, said Major Wood, adding that the base could have as little as 30 minutes notice before a shuttle landing.

"The probability that it (landing at an alternate site) will actually happen is low, but it sure is nice to know the support is there," said Mr. Linde.

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