NASA Depends on Freedom and Liberty

When most people think of the ships in NASA's fleet, they think of the space shuttles that pierce the sky as they carry astronauts toward space. But NASA has two seagoing ships, Liberty Star and Freedom Star, which also stand ready on shuttle launch day. Their crews' mission is heading to sea to retrieve the two solid rocket boosters that power the shuttle's ascent.

"A typical crew that we carry is 24 people. We've got ten crew, ten diver specialists, and retrieval operations personnel," says Freedom Star Captain Mike Nicholas, a 24-year booster retrieval veteran who works for United Space Alliance. "We depart the port 24 hours in advance. It takes us roughly 12 to 15 hours to get offshore to our SRB impact area.

Then we'll stand by, and do surveillance work to keep other vessels out of the area so that when the launch goes, we have a window that the boosters can come in safely without any traffic being around."

The crews, divers and ships are prepared long before the solid boosters ignite at the launch pad.

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