In watching some YouTube videos of US Space Shuttle launches, I was wondering how close personnel were to the actual launch pad during a launch that weren't actually on the Shuttle itself? Obviously there were many civilian observers at various places a few miles away, and as close as the VAB and attached mission control center where the launch was coordinated and controlled from. However, were the safety (or other) personnel stationed significantly closer to the launch pads, whether in open vehicles, in bunkers, or other protected locations?

This question is specifically in regards to the US Space Shuttle program, but could be extended to Saturn V or other US launches if there are anecdotes or other information about other US rocket launches that people wish to share.

  • $\begingroup$ Ground personell should be protected against a fire, explosion or crash to the ground of the Shuttle, but also against the tremendous noise level. An open vehicle would offer no protection at all. At a distance save for pedestrians also open vehicles would be save. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 15:43

1 Answer 1


The closest personnel were the fire/rescue teams stationed in the M113 vehicles, approximately one mile from the pad.

Three are on hand on launch day. Two stand by less than a mile from the launch pad, each with a complement of firefighters on board. A few minutes before liftoff, the firefighters get inside wearing all their gear, including silver protection suits, an airpack and an air mask. They close all the hatches and raise the back ramp.

The inside of the M113 is hardly spacious, so the firefighters have to curl their legs up tight. Only the driver can see out consistently, looking through four slits facing the pad. The others in the vehicle have to take turns looking through the slits in another hatch, but that means awkwardly trying to kneel or stand in the middle of the rest of the crew.

Most of the firefighters feel the launch more than see it because the thunder thoroughly shakes the 10-ton armored personnel carrier.

If an emergency call comes in before launch, the driver runs in and gets the vehicle moving in seconds, letting one of the other crew members work the lever to lift the ramp


Here's an official NASA photo of the M113 in use during training, with astronaut Dan Barry, cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, and some lowly support person.

enter image description here

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you, Organic Marble, for all of your information sharing on all things NASA. I consistently look forward to reading your answers to these types of questions! I figured there were some minimal emergency personnel stationed nearer, as one of the IMAX DVDs I have on Space Shuttles alludes to some training with escape slides and being able to drive away in something like these M113 carriers. However, if there were truly an emergency on the pad, I wonder if the astronauts would have actually had enough time to slide away and get to these carriers before the emergency got out of control. $\endgroup$
    – Milwrdfan
    Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct, it would have had to be a very slow emergency for the crew to be able to unstrap, climb out, open the hatch, run to the baskets, slide down, and get into the M113 before whatever was happening...happened. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Milwrdfan I noticed that you are an active question-asker but while many of your questions have multiple answers, many of those have no accepted answer. Feel free to add more follow-up comments if you need clarification, and if you think some of those answers are sufficient, consider if clicking "accept" might be appropriate in some cases. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 2:31

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