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Members of the New York Air National Guard's (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, fly their C-130 to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where they joined a contingency rescue team for the launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 5, 2011)

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

The Space Shuttle Atlantis sits in the rain
(Credit: Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara)

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.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis sits in the rain
(Credit: Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara)

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.

The Space Shuttle Atlantis sits in the rain
(Credit: Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara)

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.

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The Space Shuttle Atlantis sits in the rain
(Credit: Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara)

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.

Members of the New York Air National Guard's
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, board their C-130 before flying to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where they were to join a contingency rescue team for the July 8 launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 5, 2011)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, fly their C-130 to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where they joined a contingency rescue team for the launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 5, 2011)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, fly their C-130 to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where they joined a contingency rescue team for the launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 5, 2011)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, fly their C-130 to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where they joined a contingency rescue team for the launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 5, 2011)

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Members of the New York Air National Guard's
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, fly their C-130 to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where they joined a contingency rescue team for the launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 5, 2011)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, fly their C-130 to Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where they joined a contingency rescue team for the launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 5, 2011)

Lt. Col. Lars Ulissey of Detachment 3, 45th
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Lt. Col. Lars Ulissey of Detachment 3, 45th Operations Group, Patrick Air Force Base, leads the briefing for Atlantis' contingency rescuers, who include pararescue jumpers of New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. (July 7, 2011)

At Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, Phil
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

At Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, Phil Scarpa, medical operations director for the Space Shuttle Atlantis, briefs a contingency rescue team that includes members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach. (July 7, 2011)

Pararescue jumpers with the New York Air National
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Pararescue jumpers with the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, get briefed on contingency rescue plans in Florida a day before the launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 7, 2011)

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Pararescue jumper Senior Master Sgt. Michael Murphy, center,
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Pararescue jumper Senior Master Sgt. Michael Murphy, center, and other members of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach, get briefed on contingency rescue plans in Florida a day before the launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 7, 2011)

Pararescue jumpers with the New York Air National
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Pararescue jumpers with the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, get briefed on contingency rescue plans in Florida a day before the launching of Space Shuttle Atlantis. (July 7, 2011)

From left, Staff Sgts. Andrew Earl, Doug Kechijian
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

From left, Staff Sgts. Andrew Earl, Doug Kechijian and Samuel Prescott, all from the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach, drill for Space Shuttle Atlantis' contingency rescue plans as Staff Sgt. Leslie Forshaw plays the role of an astronaut. (July 7, 2011)

Staff Sgts. Andrew Earl, second from left, Doug
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Staff Sgts. Andrew Earl, second from left, Doug Kechijian, third from left, and Samuel Prescott, right -- all from the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach -- drill for Space Shuttle Atlantis' contingency rescue plans as Staff Sgt. Leslie Forshaw plays the role of an astronaut. (July 7, 2011)

From left, Staff Sgts. Andrew Earl, Doug Kechijian
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

From left, Staff Sgts. Andrew Earl, Doug Kechijian and Samuel Prescott, all from the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach, drill for Space Shuttle Atlantis' contingency rescue plans as Staff Sgt. Leslie Forshaw plays the role of an astronaut. (July 7, 2011)

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Staff Sgt. Eric Miller, a combat corespondent with
(Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Staff Sgt. Eric Miller, a combat corespondent with the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach, shoots video of Space Shuttle Atlantis on its lauch pad at the Kennedy Space center in Florida the day before its historic final launch. (July 7, 2011)

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