The Space Shuttle had various ways to abort a mission. These included shutting down on the launchpad before the SRBs ignited (RSLS), turning around to land at a runway near the launch site (RTLS), landing on a runway on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean (TAL), circling the Earth once before landing at KSC (AOA), continuing the mission in a lower orbit (ATO), and having the astronauts bailout and parachute to Earth.

Most of these modes either leave the vehicle on the launch pad, or land the orbiter safely on a runway. However, there was always a remote chance that the astronauts would need to bailout. To this end, the ACES launch suit contains a parachute, life raft, and survival gear.

In this case, what military forces were assigned to assist with the search and rescue of shuttle astronauts? Were they Army, Navy, or Air Force? Were elite units such as Navy SEALS involved? Were military forces from other countries involved as well?

Related: Could the Space Shuttle have landed on any long runway other than those specially reinforced at Kennedy (TTS), and Edwards (EDW)?

Not related: Did the Space Shuttle have "military uses"?


It was the Air Force Reserve's 920th Rescue Wing operating out of Patrick Air Force Base.

  • $\begingroup$ While this seems like a valid answer, there would seem to be scenarios where the shuttle rescue site was closer to other units then the 920th. Presumably there must have been standby forces around the world. $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Dec 5 '18 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ Looks like the 920th is getting ready for the upcoming capsule flights. $\endgroup$ – Digger Dec 8 '18 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesJenkins I look forward to upvoting your superior answer. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Dec 8 '18 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ @JamesJenkins Remember that the USAF touts itself (and, has done so for years) as having Global Reach. In my experience (1996-2004), subject rescue forces were stationed (for launch support) no further than Western Europe or northwest Africa (wherever the prime Transatlantic Abort site was for each particular launch), well within the casual reach of the USAF... $\endgroup$ – Digger Jan 5 at 18:23

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