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SCUBAPRO Sunday – SEALS in Spaaaace

As this week marks the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon. I thought it would be a good idea to talk about how the UDT/SEALS teams have contributed to this effort.  The Navy, as a whole, had a large part in the space race. From using Navy aviators as astronauts. The first American in space, Alan Shepard, was a Navy officer. The USS Lake Champlain was the ship that plucked him out of the water and brought him home. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was a naval aviator during the Korean War. When NASA Langley invented things to test how far they could push the new astronauts, they would test them out on team guys.  From pilots to Frogmen to researchers and engineers, the Navy was heavily involved in the space program. 

There have also been SEALS that have gone on to the space program. Capt. William Shepherd, Capt. Christopher Cassidy and LT Jonny Kim. LT Kim entered the Navy as an enlisted guy right out of high school, went to BUD/S then SEALS team 3 later became an “O” then NASA. I want to mention one other person that was at his last command before he was going to astronaut training. CDR Pete Oswald was the C.O. of Unit 4 in Puerto Rico. He died in a training accident in EL Salvador in 2002. There is no dough in my mind that he would have been a great astronaut.

Here are a couple of articles about the SEALS in the space program.

www.navysealmuseum.org/about-navy-seals/seal-history-the-naval-special-warfare-storyseal-history-the-naval-special-warfare-story/udts-space-flight-programs 

https://www.navysealmuseum.org/home-to-artifacts-from-the-secret-world-of-naval-special-warfare/navy-seals-udt-frogmen-and-the-space-program 

I know some of you are saying, SEALS don’t have a capital “S” at the end?  Well,  SEALS in an acronym and there should be. Sea, Air, Land, Space = SEALS

5 Responses to “SCUBAPRO Sunday – SEALS in Spaaaace”

  1. chris says:

    I read the title using the voice from the Muppets ‘Pigs in Spaaaaaceeeee’.

  2. Iceman says:

    Bill Shepherd is an amazing person. Had a few interactions with him and could listen to him tell stories for hours. That dude has the Space Medal of Honor! Great Frogman, but a true American hero as the first commander of the Intl Space Station.

  3. Ed says:

    Ahhh, the good’ole days!

  4. TheScrutineer says:

    Word has it that the SEALS (at least in the 60’s and early 70’s) thought of it as really choice, relaxing, duty. It was often given to the guys in the phoenix (ssshh) teams as a reward during that era.

  5. Jonathan says:

    I served as an environmental, health, and safety specialist at SpaceX from 2016-2018. I formerly served as a USAF EOD technician, bomb disposal contractor in Iraq, and federal explosives stuff.

    At SpaceX, we ran a similar spacecraft recovery operation – but we didn’t use a naval fleet of the size used for Apollo. We used a single vessel (NRC Quest) to launch 2 RHIBs. With about 12 people total, we recovered spacecraft from the ocean, offloaded cargo, and reduced pressure in the hypergolic fuel system while still out to see (had to be done greater than 20 miles from the California coast due to environmental laws).

    We would receive a ‘splashdown’ date and time and then preposition perpendicular to the deorbit path, a few miles away from the expected path. This kept us safe in the event the spacecraft came in short or long. Once we had the time, we would put RHIBs in the water about 90 minutes early with only 3 people in each boat. We would remain perpendicular and wait. We knew the spacecraft would cross our view from right-to-left (generally), so our eyes were all glued to the sky.

    I was on the first RHIB and we would go full-speed in the RHIB once we heard the sonic boom and saw parachutes. We would race to the spacecraft and stage upwind. I would get the team set-up with SCBAs and we would approach the spacecraft while monitoring for hypergolic fuel leaks – you never know what can happen to space hardware during launch/docking/undocking/reentry. We would scan every quadrant of the spacecraft and I would verify all ordnance was expended.

    We then knew the spacecraft was safe to ‘board’, so I would help a teammate onto the top of the capsule. I would then hand up the rigging equipment that the NRC Quest would later use to hoist the spacecraft onto the deck. From parachute sighting to being set on the deck of the NRC Quest, it was generally less than one hour.

    After the NRC Quest hoisted the spacecraft, we would attempt to recover parachutes that are automatically decoupled from the capsule once it is in the water. Sometimes, these parachutes would catch the wind and stay inflated. But, generally, they would sink and take hours to pull out. But, SpaceX was interested in the reusability of the parachutes, so we took good care of most of the parachutes.

    The ocean side of the operation was always intense, but we got it done quickly and recovered the spacecraft in a great state – some have already flown multiple missions.

    I also had to run the safety/security convoy for the flown capsules when we would drive them from California to Texas….always a wild trip.