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The photo in NPR's 4 Astronauts Aboard SpaceX Crew Dragon Successfully Dock With Space Station shows the four astronauts standing in front of a serious-looking military vehicle flanked by at least two individuals holding what looks like semiautomatic weapons.

At first I thought that there was also a SpaceX ninja directly behind Noguchi, but I was mistaken.


  1. Is this a new thing, or were similar military guards around to guard Shuttle crews as well?
  2. Is this the new normal, i.e. a standard procedure going forward?

The figure's caption says:

Astronauts (from left) Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Japan's Soichi Noguchi wave to family and friends as they leave for the launch site on Sunday. John Raoux/AP

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    $\begingroup$ In the inimitable words of Mike Massimino, those are to make sure you get on the rocket... $\endgroup$
    – Digger
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ Not a gun expert, but if it's the military they'd have M4 pattern rifles which are fully automatic weapons. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ Are they SPAAAACE FORRRRCE?! $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 7:38
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    $\begingroup$ As a curiosity, in that photo is that just a private security force (anyone can hire something like that for a few dollars), or, is it an actual US Military unit? Does anyone know? $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ @NKCampbell: NASA KSC has its own SWAT team, and at least in the Shuttle days, they were the ones guarding the astronauts. (If you zoom into the first photo in Organic Marble's answer below, you can read the "SWAT" patch on the uniform.) It stands to reason that's still the case today. However, it looks like those are in fact not government employees but contractors. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 13:40

3 Answers 3


Why were the SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts backed up by guards with automatic weapons?

A NASA crew launch is a highly-visible symbol of US national pride. I mean, the slogan for the whole campaign is Launch America, and the message has always been "Launch American astronauts from American soil in an American capsule on American rockets (for the first time in 9 years at all and for the first time ever on a commercial vehicle)."

And then, these highly-visible symbolic heroic figures get into straight jackets that make it impossible for them to run, hide, duck, or cover, and strap themselves to a giant bomb!!!

That is every terrorist's dream. Terrorists want to terrorize. Challenger and Columbia were extremely deep shocks to US society, even without an actual terrorist being involved.

For this particular launch, you also have the first African-American ISS crew member launching right in the middle of highly-volatile and charged race relations. So, not only do you have the "normal" pool of "hates America" and "hates the government" terrorists, but you add white supremacists into the mix as well.

I'm not sure whether there is such a thing as a misogynist terror group, but if there is, they might get triggered by a woman astronaut who has held multiple management positions at NASA and will become commander of the ISS in April.

Is this a new thing, or were similar military guards around to guard Shuttle crews as well?

NASA KSC has their own SWAT team, and their uniform patch has the year the unit was founded on it: 1979. So, the Kennedy Space Center has had its own special operations para-military police force for over 40 years.

While they are not as well known as for example LAPD's SWAT, NYPD's ESU, the FBI's HRT, or the German Federal Police's GSG9, they consistently rank among the top teams in international SWAT competitions.

We can assume that their purpose is not to mow the lawn, so enhanced security must have been in existence since at least 1979.

In particular, the article about the KSC SWAT team on NASA.gov is in the context of the 2005 Space Shuttle return-to-flight, so at least for this particular Shuttle launch, they are explicitly mentioned in an article by a NASA journalist.

Is this the new normal, i.e. a standard procedure going forward?

Given the above, I would argue it is the old normal.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice coverage of all three subquestions, +1 $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ From your personal experience, are those guards in the photo(s) actually members of the KSC SWAT team or would they belong to other forces and the KSC SWAT team e.g. be deployed in a more tactical position to protect the vehicle itself? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ At least in the shuttle days, KSC SWAT. If you click on the first image in my answer and view it full sized, you can see the guard's left breast pocket labeled SWA (last letter obscured). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ Re "a misogynist terror group": Named group or not, there has been at least 11 misogynist terror attacks. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble: If you want, you can add that as a (partial) answer to my question: space.stackexchange.com/q/48610/6156 $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 13:38

Partial answer covering only

Is this a new thing, or were similar military guards around to guard Shuttle crews as well?

It is not a new thing.

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Photo by former colleague Michael Grabois at STS-101 crew walkout, 2000.

The guards were not only on the ground.

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Image source

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Personal photo at STS-135 launch, 2011.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 14:41

Outside of security for crew safety, astronauts also represent millions of dollars in investment by taxpayers. I realize this is not a fun topic, but the astronauts do have a monetary value, and a large one. The cost to taxpayers to train each astronaut is roughly $15,000,000. Banks use armored guards to transport cash in much smaller amounts.

Also, the armed guards and APC seen during Demo-2 and Crew-1 only represent a small portion of the security for a launch. There is also a Huey helicopter for air support, dozens of guards and police officers, and the airspace is also often secured by USAF fighter jets. I would also not be surprised if DHS and NRO run signals intelligence and monitoring leading up to and during the launch. Not to mention that the entirety of KSC is likely covered by cameras and sensors. It's important to remember that these pads have been used to launch some of the most expensive and secretive payloads in human history and the US has the assets in place to protect them.


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