CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A make-believe fuel leak in the shuttle Atlantis set off a simulated emergency launch pad evacuation today, complete with an astronaut faking injuries in an unprecedented test prompted by the Challenger disaster.
The most extensive such safety exercise in shuttle history ended shortly after 11 a.m. with helicopters and ambulances carrying technicians who pretended to be injured to area hospitals.
The test, in which four people pretended to be hurt, was a direct result of safety concerns raised by the Challenger disaster.
It began at 8:42 a.m. as a crew of seven rookie astronauts was climbing aboard Atlantis at launch pad 39-B--the same pad used by Challenger.
Frank Culbertson, commander, and Stephen Oswald, co-pilot, were aboard the shuttle when the simulated emergency--a leak of rocket fuel from forward-maneuvering jet supplies--was declared. The other crew members--Carl Meade, Kathyrn Thornton, Jerome Apt, Pierre Thuot and David Low--were waiting to board the shuttle at the 195-foot level.
Giant fire extinguishers on the launch pad came to life as they would in a real crisis, drenching the tower to prevent a fire.
In a real emergency the astronauts and pad technicians would jump in baskets hanging below cables at the 195-foot level of the pad to make a dizzying descent to emergency escape vehicles.
In today's test, the 19 astronauts and technicians on the pad climbed in the baskets but did not ride them to the ground for safety reasons. The astronauts and engineers took an elevator down and then climbed back in the baskets and pretended they just arrived.