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The Space Shuttle Atlantis sits in the rain
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The Space Shuttle Atlantis sits in the rain on its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida one day before its scheduled launch time. July 7, 2011.(Credit: Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara)

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Air National Guard base in Westhampton Beach

In the moments before the shuttle Atlantis rocketed skyward from Kennedy Space Center on July 8, 2011, a Long Island-based team of Air Force rescue fliers readied themselves on a Florida runway nearby. They wanted very much not to be needed. If a disaster forced the shuttle's four astronauts to ditch into the ocean, it would be up to these 15 fliers to fly as far as 300 miles over the Atlantic to bring the astronauts to safety. This is a look at how contingency rescuers from the Westhampton Beach-based 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard prepared for NASA's final shuttle launch. -- MARTIN C. EVANS


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