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Office responds to Columbia disaster

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- Within seconds of NASA's announcement that it had lost contact with Space Shuttle Columbia on Feb. 1, the Department of Defense's manned space flight support office here initiated its catastrophic incident checklists.

The DDMS mission is to coordinate NASA requests for Defense Department-unique capabilities supporting the manned space flight program, if search and rescue is needed.

The office is made up of only 36 people, yet charged with astronaut rescue and recovery, contingency landing site support, payload security and medical support.

Office staff quickly mobilized their rapid response team and coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard to dispatch C-130 Hercules aircraft to patrol the coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico for falling debris.

For the first few hours, officials moved to thoroughly coordinate with many national agencies, including U.S. Strategic Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Military Command Center, the director of military support and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

Later, as search-and-rescue efforts took place in east Texas and western Louisiana, office officials dispatched people to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas, to assist NASA and FEMA in their recovery efforts. DDMS also had aircraft and crew on alert throughout the day in case additional support was needed.

Currently, DDMS officials are still coordinating NASA requests for additional Defense Department resources and passing those requests to the recovery team headquarters at Barksdale.

"Our sole purpose is to train for contingencies like the Columbia accident," said Col. David Dingley, DDMS commander. "But it's a job we hope we never have to do. When called upon, however, the entire team performed magnificently, and I couldn't be (more proud) of their performance under very tough circumstances."

"On behalf of the entire DDMS team, I'd like to convey our sympathy to the crew's families," said Navy Cmdr. Michael D. Masla, DOD Support Operations Center director. "We are very proud of the loved ones they have lost and the courage these families have displayed during this terrible tragedy." (Courtesy of Air Force Space Command News Service)

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