Troy doc on hand at shuttle liftoff

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dr. Lenny Nasca of Troy is on-site today for the final launch of the U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis and he’s keeping his fingers crossed that “We have a liftoff.”

The shuttle is scheduled to lift off at 11:26 a.m. EST from Kennedy Space Center however; Nasca said there is a 60 percent chance that the launch will be delayed due to weather conditions.

Nasca is a member of a 150-member emergency response team that was formed after the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986.

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After that tragic event, NASA reevaluated its space shuttle medical-support program and contingency plans in case of a launch or landing mishap.

Following an in-depth selection process, NASA awarded the shuttle medical department support contract to the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine.

Nasca is a University of Florida physician and has a keen interest in the United States space program. He applied for the program in 1998, and was accepted. He underwent an intensive training program to qualify for the team and continues to take refresher courses necessary to keep him abreast of all emergency procedures related to the space shuttle program.

“We are trained to respond to the different emergencies that could involve the astronauts,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to save them.

“In addition to a potential problem with the shuttle, there are hazardous materials and potential for mass casualties involving Kennedy Space Center staff or the thousands of spectators who attend each event. We have to be ready and able to respond to all emergencies.”

Being in a state of readiness and hoping that the time for action never comes is the situation for the team of University of Florida physicians at each launch.

Often, it’s a wait and see situation at the launch site and Nasca never knows if he’ll be lucky enough to be there for the countdown.

“For each launch, there are four or five potential launch days,” Nasca said. “The weather is always a factor and then there are problems that could arise from the shuttle itself. I’m scheduled for today and for July 11.

“I’m hoping that the weather breaks and that the shuttle is launched as scheduled. And, I hope that there is nothing for us to do except stand by and watch.”

Being there for the final space shuttle liftoff will be a thrill for Nasca, maybe more so than other liftoffs because it is the last.

“But it’s always a thrill to be down there working along side of those getting everything ready for launch,” he said. “I’m proud to be a part of helping the NASA program. I’m doing something I never thought that I would be doing.

“I’ve seen liftoffs from the one-mile pad and the three-mile pad. You get a better view from one mile but it’s always a thrill to see a shuttle lift off.”

Nasca described “liftoff” as the feeling one gets from winning a big game.

“You’re happy at being successful and that nobody got hurt,” he said. “It’s a great feeling.”

The end of the space shuttle program is not the end of manned space flights. Nasca said the change from the shuttle back to the old-fashioned capsule will allow for moon landings and eventually a base on the moon. From there, maybe to the planets.

“It’s going to cost billions of dollars to keep the space program going,” Nasca said.

“The space program will continue but we’ll not see the end result of it.”