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NASA Space Transportation Science

Sonic Skydive's Real Aim Is To Help Astronauts Survive 140

Posted by timothy
from the recoup-the-training-costs-at-least dept.
mattnyc99 writes "Earlier this year came reports that Felix Baumgartner (the daredevil who flew across the English Channel) would be attempting to jump from a balloon at least 120,000 feet altitude, break the sound barrier, and live. Now comes a big investigative story from Esquire's issue on achieving the impossible, which details the former NASA team dedicated to making sure Baumgartner's Stratos project will instruct the future safety of manned space flight (including Jonathan Clark, the husband of an astronaut who died in the Columbia disaster). From the article (which also includes pics and video shot by the amateur space photographer we've discussed here before): 'that's also precisely what makes Stratos great. It's more like Mercury than the shuttle: They're taking risks, making things up as they go along. But they're also doing important work, potentially groundbreaking work. They're doing what NASA no longer has the balls to do. Hell, he'd do it for free. He is doing it for free. Stratos only picks up his travel expenses. Clark looks at his friend, shrugs. "This is new space."'"
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Sonic Skydive's Real Aim Is To Help Astronauts Survive

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  • Project Excelsior (Score:5, Informative)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @04:54PM (#32906318)
    For those who like this sort of thing, you might want to read up on Project Excelsior [wikipedia.org]. Men have been doing those edge-of-space dives since the 60's. As part of that project, Joseph Kittinger jumped from 102,800 ft. Pretty amazing accomplishment for 1960 to even get up that high, much less jump from there.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by MozeeToby (1163751)

      Well, people did these kinds of jumps as far back as the 60's. That's not quite the same as saying that people have been doing them for that long since no one has done extreme high altitude jumps since then. In other words, the people who know the risks, problems, and solutions that they are likely to encounter are all retired or dead. A lot of the information and technology is being rediscovered and reinvented. They know that this jump is possible because someone did a jump from nearly as high 50 years

      • Re:Project Excelsior (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:21PM (#32906730)

        RTFA. First off, the guy who did the 100k ft jump is alive and consulting on the new jump. Second, they don't know this jump is possible, because jumping from 150,000 feet involved breaking the sound barrier, which no one's ever done before.

        • by Jurily (900488) <jurily@NETBSDgmail.com minus bsd> on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:30PM (#32906832)

          It's rude to spoil a good argument with facts.

        • by blai (1380673)

          Please RTFA.

          Fixed that for you [slashdot.org]

        • First, the jump is always possible, it's that nasty survival aspect that can bite you in the ass.

          Second, I don't see a 150,000' reference anywhere, over 120,000 is what I see in TFA.

          Third, no one has broken the sound barrier at sea level without propulsion, lots of people break the sound barrier everyday.

          This guy will be wearing an armor suit that will make Joe Kittinger's rig look a lot like paper mache... but that was what Joe was doing, making sure it could be done.

          Also, what IS the speed of
          • by JWSmythe (446288)

            To reply out of order....

            Speed of sound at sea level, on a standard day, at standard pressure, is 1125 ft/s or 767 miles per hour.

            According to this calculator [nasa.gov], the speed of sound would be 684mph. Lacking the pressure to create a sonic boom, it was survivable in an atmospheric suit, so he could tolerate the lack of pressure and oxygen. I've watched the original video quite a few times, and that suit didn't appear to be constructed for much more than to provide p

        • by c6gunner (950153)

          Second, they don't know this jump is possible, because jumping from 150,000 feet involved breaking the sound barrier, which no one's ever done before.

          Breaking the sound barrier doesn't mean much when the atmosphere is that thin. For one thing, the speed of sound gets lower the higher you go. For another thing, the lower density would mean far less turbulence and heat as you approach the transonic stage. At that height you've got so little pressure that I doubt you'd get a meaningful shockwave.

          Not that this wouldn't be a really cool thing to do, but it seems a little silly to get excited about "breaking the sound barrier". Technically speaking, astron

    • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:15PM (#32906662) Homepage

      Here is a music video [youtube.com] by Boards of Canada, in which they show the original footage of Joseph Kittinger jumping from 102,800 ft. Much of the last part of the video is from something else, but the first part is real. It really is haunting to see him push off of the balloon platform.

      • by zr-rifle (677585)
        Kittinger is actually acting as a consultant on the Stratos project. This is what makes me think is will be successful this time.

        I am a licensed skydiver and this feat, jumping from so high above and breaking the sound barrier during freefall, has been the dream of my life, since I was a little kid. I'd also do it for free, pity I wasn't as determined and resourceful as Mr. Baumgartner. Hats off to him.
      • My stomach dropped just watching him do the jump. I'd like to think that, had I the training and experience, I could also step off the platform, but looking down on a curved Earth would itself be so mind-numbing, I don't know if I could actually will myself to do it.

        • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @11:39PM (#32909494) Homepage

          The real trip is, with the rarefied atmosphere there was no sound. When he jumped, he wasn't even sure he was falling to the earth or just floating around. Only when he managed to see the balloon getting smaller and smaller "above" him did he feel better.

          • When he jumped, he wasn't even sure he was falling to the earth or just floating around.

            Interesting observation. Doing this would be very odd. There would be one large difference between before jumping and after: I think he would have felt full gravity/normal force when sitting on the platform, and once he jumped he would have felt weightless. In the rarefied atmosphere, jumping would feel a lot like being in orbit.

            • by cmarkn (31706)

              That's because being in orbit is falling towards the ground but moving horizontally fast enough to miss.

              • by c++0xFF (1758032)

                That's because being in orbit is falling towards the ground but moving horizontally fast enough to miss.

                So Douglas Adams was right after all!

        • by JWSmythe (446288)

              Well, the decision to jump wouldn't be all that hard. Eventually the balloon will pop. Do you want to come down in a controlled manner, or wrapped up in the debris that was your ascent vehicle?

              Myself, I like to fly. I can't see myself stepping out of a perfectly good aircraft. More importantly, I wouldn't step into one that goes straight up and is designed to have a catastrophic failure just after I leave it. :)

      • by Danse (1026)

        Here is a music video [youtube.com] by Boards of Canada, in which they show the original footage of Joseph Kittinger jumping from 102,800 ft. Much of the last part of the video is from something else, but the first part is real. It really is haunting to see him push off of the balloon platform.

        Would have been pretty awesome if he actually had landed from the jump and then surfed back to land :)

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Projects meant to provide personal reentry...shroud, really, mentioned here [astronautix.com] (among many other rescue options), might be also worth a read in context.

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:59PM (#32907184) Homepage Journal

      There is the problem of descending from 120,000 feet with a parachute, which is solvable with space suits, multi-stage parachutes, etc.

      Then there is the problem that this project would not address at all, which is how to decelerate from orbital speed of Mach 12 or so. The space shuttle that broke up on re-entry did so while it was going fast enough that the atmospheric friction would melt metal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MichaelSmith (789609)

        Orbital speed is ~mach 21. Heat shields are pretty well established technology. Early spy satellites dropped film containers which were collected on Earth. Then there was Mercury up to Apollo. The Galileo entry probe hit Jupiter at 50 km/s (~mach 150).

        So you can pretty much dial your own heat shield now. The problem is that it is going to be bulky. For a two metre human I expect you will need a conical structure ~3 metres in diameter and about a metre deep. Rockets and guidance will be needed if you need t

        • Yes, almost all of the one-person re-entry device proposals from the 1960's to present look a great deal like a Mercury capsule.
          • by joh (27088) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @07:19PM (#32907890)

            There might be other options like using some large and light drag device (like a large balloon) to already brake high up in the atmosphere with much less heating. If you can manage to have a large surface area to weight ratio heating can be quite gentle.

            There have been calculations that a simple table-tennis ball could survive reentry with no further protection for exactly this reason.

            There even have been (russian) tests with inflatable heatshields working in this way. The dense reentry-vehicles with ablating heat shields are mostly a heritage from ICBM technology which depend on going in as fast and straight as possible (they're weapons after all).

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Bruce Perens (3872)
              Given a large surface area device, you have to carry a lot more oxygen for the passenger, because the re-entry will take much longer. And you might want to get an ill or injured passenger down quickly.

              Isn't this potentially a good experiment for a microsat payload? Inflate something and wait for the drag to decay the orbit, then re-enter. It seems to me it might be in the range of a college or amateur team, or AMSAT.

              It sounds like the Russians haven't had a fully successful recovery in three tries. But I m

              • by hitmark (640295)

                would some kind of rebreather system help extend the oxygen supply, or is it already factored into the issue?

                • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @02:18AM (#32910150) Homepage Journal

                  Yes, the EVA suits and vehicle environments rebreathe, so it would be expected as a weight-saving measure if nothing else. You need 7 lbs of oxygen per hour in a rebreather. But there's more: the suit has to remove carbon dioxide to avoid a toxic atmosphere. So, you need the chemical load to leach 7 lbs of C02 out of air per hour. If you recycle your CO2 leach chemical, you need energy to heat and cool it. And then, you need temperature management.

                  When you're finished, it looks like a Mercury capsule :-)

                  • by hitmark (640295)

                    makes one wonder if one would be better off to perhaps be able to section up a vehicle if needed, and have it be able to do a reentry without the damaged section(s). Still, that may weaken the overall structure of the whole so...

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by MichaelSmith (789609)

              Yeah thats the fluffy reentry vehicle. Cometary dust grains get into our atmosphere that way because their surface area is large compared to their volume and mass. Unfortunately they also decelerate at hundreds of gravities, which is not going to be good for your passengers.

              I do think, however, that large devices which generate drag could be used to passively deorbit rescue craft. You could use this if your retro rockets fail. If you had a very light canopy (say a few molecules thick) you could grab on to t

        • But the thing is - once you've built all that kit, it no longer makes any sense to ever abandon it for the risks of a personal parachute jump. Just ride the parachutes that have slowed the vehicle down all the way to the ground.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jd (1658)

        True, but we know that there were survivors from the initial explosion of the fuel tank on Challenger. If they had been in a position to bail out, there is still no guarantee they would have survived any internal injuries received at that point, or debris impacts after bailing out, but it is within the bounds of possibility that the death toll on that specific tragedy would not have been quite so great.

        The other possibility to consider is what happens if any future manned mission is stranded in space, with

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bruce Perens (3872)
          Hi JD, They were past MaxQ at T+73 seconds. The aerodynamic forces, not the explosion, broke up the orbiter. So, maybe not that time. But sure this is nice equipment to have.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward
            I just had the honor of witnessing a conversation between Bruce friggin Perens and a guy with a lower uid than Bruce friggin Perens.

            Words fail. Thank you.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Bruce Perens (3872)

              Anonymous Coward wrote:

              I just had the honor of witnessing a conversation between Bruce friggin Perens and a guy with a lower uid than Bruce friggin Perens.

              Yes, JD is an old-timer. But the funny thing is that I knew about Slashdot for months, Debian guys were talking about it, etc., and I refrained from showing up there. Finally something made me do it. If I hadn't done that, I'd probably be in the three digit UID club.

              Well, I did get credit for some other stuff :-)

              • by jd (1658)

                Although I was posting long before I registered, I refrained from registering because I was uncomfortable with registering on Internet sites at that time. We'd probably have ended up with very similar 3-digit UIDs, but no idea whose would be the lower. Not that it matters at the 3-digit level - or even at the 4-digit level given how few old-timers are left.

                • by Danse (1026)

                  Although I was posting long before I registered, I refrained from registering because I was uncomfortable with registering on Internet sites at that time. We'd probably have ended up with very similar 3-digit UIDs, but no idea whose would be the lower. Not that it matters at the 3-digit level - or even at the 4-digit level given how few old-timers are left.

                  Was the same story for me, and I've heard it from others here as well. Seems like a lot of us had reservations about creating accounts for websites back then. I probably missed a 3-digit UID by a matter of hours. Maybe a day or so at most.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jd (1658)

            Yes, I remember watching. I'd only recently got the Space Shuttle handbook NASA had published and was comparing the sequence of steps the book gave versus the actual launch. MaxQ was with engines at 102%, whereas the handbook stated this should be 100%. Up until they identified the actual cause, I remember wondering if the extra stress had caused something to break.

            Not long after, when they'd recovered the front section, I recall reading that they had found that the environmental controls had been altered a

            • Yes, I remember watching.

              I was in the shower. My roommate called out that the Space Shuttle had blown up, and I immediately shouted "Those damned solid rocket boosters!" Anyone who'd considered it knew it would be them on the way up, and a tile failure on the way down. There weren't really any surprises, were there?

              I recall reading that they had found that the environmental controls had been altered after the break-up and before colliding with the ocean

              It was the Personal Egress Air Packs, which were used

            • Not long after, when they'd recovered the front section, I recall reading that they had found that the environmental controls had been altered after the break-up and before colliding with the ocean (hence the conclusion by NASA that the explosion had been survived by at least one of the crew).

              I've participated in several discussions on that issue and the conclusion invariably that this was almost certainly reflexive actions on the part of the crew as a result of their emergency training. However, the actio

        • The other possibility to consider is what happens if any future manned mission is stranded in space, with damage too great for repairs and no possibility of rescue within the time the capsule or whatever can remain in orbit.

          They die, it's really just as simple as that. I've been in that situation (for an accumulated total of over a year), where a minor malfunction could lead to death far from rescue, and it didn't bother me. Didn't bother any of the professionals I knew. We'd prefer not to die of course,

        • by Picass0 (147474)

          After the Challenger explosion NASA briefly pursued the idea of a breakaway cabin for the shuttle that would have parachutes and splashdown inflatables. There would have been a separation line just above the line of the wing and forward of the cargo doors. The idea was abandoned because it would have been too difficult/expensive to retrofit the existing shuttles.

          The Orion program will bring back the escape rocket concept. A small cluster of thrusters will pull the crew module off the top of the rocket durin

    • You can see all of the Excelsior equipment at the Air Force museum in Dayton, in the round room with the missiles, farthest from the front of the museum, on the second floor. I always make a point of stopping there after Dayton Hamvention, and that's one of my favorite exhibits. There's also a nuclear missile command bunker, almost hidden in the museum, directly under the Excelsior capsules on the first floor which is also a great exhibit.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:06PM (#32906508)
    Due to privacy rights we wont know that for 75 years. But Columbia was a Science Mission and some of experiment trays survived re-entry. Some computer disks could even be read. I heard from talks by the P.I.s in my area there was about 75% experiment success rate and special publication of results. But most of that was due to telemetried data before the accident.
  • Red Bull, anyone? (Score:5, Informative)

    by VTI9600 (1143169) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:14PM (#32906618)

    I find it odd that the summary neither links to nor mentions the official project page [redbullstratos.com]. Perhaps the author has something against Red Bull (or that it uses MS Silverlight). In any case, this is the Red Bull Stratos project, not the Baumgartner Stratos Project. This is some pretty exciting stuff...Besides being totally bad-ass, Kittinger's original jump paved the way for manned space exploration. It may seem tacky to some, but credit should be given where credit is due, and as Red Bull is the primary sponsor of the project, they deserve to be mentioned.

    • Re:Red Bull, anyone? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by VTI9600 (1143169) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:30PM (#32906820)

      For another great moment in skydiving/Red Bull history check out this video [youtube.com] of Travis Pastrana. I heard he got banned for life by the USPA for this stunt. Apparently its illegal in the US to exit an airplane without a parachute.

      • Re:Red Bull, anyone? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Burger-Eater (1856162) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @06:07PM (#32907290)
        That jump wasn't done in the U.S. Also, the USPA can't ban anyone from doing anything, the FAA however can pull a pilots license for allowing divers to pull bandit jumps like this. That jump has been done many many times since the 80's but most people only know about Pastrana's.
        • by VTI9600 (1143169)

          That jump wasn't done in the U.S.

          Nevertheless, they revoked his skydiving license.

          Also, the USPA can't ban anyone from doing anything

          They can ban you from jumping at USPA-licensed drop zones, which includes pretty much all of the DZ's in the US. He may be able to get a ride to altitude with club jumpers or at DZ's in another country though.

          the FAA however can pull a pilots license for allowing divers to pull bandit jumps like this.

          The FAA also added Pastrana to their blacklist...I'm not exactly sure what being blacklisted by the FAA entails for a non-pilot, but probably nothing good.

          That jump has been done many many times since the 80's but most people only know about Pastrana's.

          I thought of it because of the Red Bull reference when he "wakes up" in the plane and says, "I hop

      • So, suppose the guys in the parachutes changed their minds and didn't link up with Pastrana, instead letting him fall to his death.

        Murder? Manslaughter? Negligent homicide? Generally, one does not have an obligation to save another person's life (final episode of Seinfeld notwithstanding), so it would be perfectly legal for a skydiver who sees a fellow skydiver fall by without a suit to decline to try to help. On the other hand, presumably the two other skydivers had told Pastrana that they would save him,

      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        The first russian paratroopers volunteered to jump out of airplanes...they didn't even know that parachutes existed. I imagine they were pleasantly surprised.

  • If they can actually get astronauts down from "space" with no vehicle, that is cool.
    and it can probably help with efficiency (no worries about a return vehicle).

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      If they can actually get astronauts down from "space" with no vehicle, that is cool.
      and it can probably help with efficiency (no worries about a return vehicle).

      MOOSE was planning to do it in the 60s, but I somehow doubt that the average astronaut would prefer sticking a foam heat-shield on their back to using a real return vehicle.

    • by vlm (69642)

      If they can actually get astronauts down from "space" with no vehicle, that is cool.

      Even for well prepared folks, breathing on Mt Everest at 30Kft is kind of tough and remarkably fatal. So don't bail out of a burning tumbling ship till you're below 30 Kft.

      If this dude survives, maybe that means you can bail out at 100Kft almost 3 times higher. No need to sit there and wait until you're below 10Kft while the ships on fire and out of control.

      Aside from being a publicity stunt, that is Probably the gameplan, rather than re-entry surfing. Re-entry surfing would certainly be cool...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by abigor (540274)

        1. Mt. Everest is 29,028 feet.

        2. People climb it without supplementary oxygen all the time - it's considered the "real" way to climb Everest. Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler first did it way back in 1980 or so.

        What can cause issues is the lower pressure, which may lead to edemas. That's why you need to hang around at higher altitudes for a while first to acclimatise.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by MichaelSmith (789609)

          1. Mt. Everest is 29,028 feet.

          2. People climb it without supplementary oxygen all the time - it's considered the "real" way to climb Everest. Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler first did it way back in 1980 or so.

          Yes but you need to work up to it. You can die at 20000 feet (for example if pressurization fails in an aircraft) even though people live at that altitude in Nepal.

        • Re:cool (Score:4, Insightful)

          by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @11:48PM (#32909546) Homepage

          Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler

          I guess Sherpas don't count?

  • Not quite... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:21PM (#32906722)

    Jumping from a nearly stationary start at 100,000 feet is a very different proposition than reentering the atmosphere at orbital speed. Objects don't burn up just because they're falling through the atmosphere; they burn up because they're entering the atmosphere at very high speeds. I forget the exact value -- LEO isn't my specialty -- but objects in low Earth orbit are traveling somewhere north of 14,000 mph. (Meteors coming in from interplanetary space have even faster velocities measured in km/sec.) A high altitude jump like this may give us some useful data, but it does very little to pave the way for an individual descent from orbit.

    • by Haffner (1349071)
      To throw some numbers in, the ISS is at around 200 miles up. If humans can survive at, say, 1000 mph entering the atmosphere, that still implies you have only 100 something miles (or maybe less) to decelerate around 13000 mph. I don't know whether or not this would cause problems, but I'm guessing in order for that to happen, organs are going to get squished.
      • by vlm (69642)

        that still implies you have only 100 something miles (or maybe less) to decelerate around 13000 mph. I don't know whether or not this would cause problems, but I'm guessing in order for that to happen, organs are going to get squished.

        That's a very modest acceleration profile. Remember that they got up there and up to speed in less distance. Squished as in you'd notice you're accelerating not standing still, hardly squished like a bug under a hammer.

      • Re:Not quite... (Score:5, Informative)

        by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:57PM (#32908602) Homepage

        If humans can survive at, say, 1000 mph entering the atmosphere, that still implies you have only 100 something miles (or maybe less) to decelerate around 13000 mph. I don't know whether or not this would cause problems, but I'm guessing in order for that to happen, organs are going to get squished

        14000 mph to 1000 mph over a distance of 100 miles would be 12.3 g deceleration for 48 seconds.

        This is survivable with no damage and no loss of consciousness by untrained individuals if they are facing the direction of travel (or, as wikipedia puts it, "eyeballs-in"). The limit for eyeballs-in with no damage or LOC experimentally is about 17g. Eyeball-out is only 12g.

        If the force is parallel to the spine, rather than perpendicular, the numbers are much lower. Around 9g for a trained person in a g suit.

        So, as long as this was done in a controlled fashion, so as to keep the people aligned properly, it would be survivable and not too harmful, at least for healthy people. Probably not too pleasant.

        However, your 100 miles is way to low. It's 100 miles if they are traveling straight down, but they would not be. They are starting with a velocity of 14000 mph perpendicular to straight down. The goal is to end up 100 miles lower with a velocity of 1000 mph or less, so you can enter the atmosphere. You'd do this over much longer than 48 seconds, and travel much farther than 100 miles while doing it. Depending on how much fuel you've got, you could make it arbitrarily gentle.

        • by spineboy (22918)

          I personally did about 15-17 Gs in a car accident 35 to 0 in about 2.5 feet. Broke 3 ribs on the typical 3point seat belt, and my wrist on the steering wheel. A racing harness would have got me thru w/o out any rib fractures.
          Colonel John Paul Stapp often did 32 g and walked away often easily, and did 42G a bunch of times on his rocket sled experiments. Some race car drives have undergone 100G to 150 G in some of their crashes (with many broken bones).
          I think the 12g/17G is referring to max force

    • by vlm (69642)

      True, but it sure would be a bummer to successfully decelerate from mach25 and 100 miles to mach "something" and 100Kft and then discover the parachute won't unfurl properly or whatever.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        True, but it sure would be a bummer to successfully decelerate from mach25 and 100 miles to mach "something" and 100Kft and then discover the parachute won't unfurl properly or whatever.

        Yeah, but what a fucking awesome story to tell in Heaven/the afterlife's waiting room (depending on if you are Christian or Beetlejuiceian).

    • Re:Not quite... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:35PM (#32906888)

      A high altitude jump like this may give us some useful data, but it does very little to pave the way for an individual descent from orbit.

      However, re-entry is largely a solved problem, whereas high-altitude parachuting isn't. If we had a need for an emergency system to bring astronauts down to 100,000 feet we could probably build a suitable heat-shield and reaction jet control system in a few months, but it won't help if their parachute fails after that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        However, re-entry is largely a solved problem, whereas high-altitude parachuting isn't.

        However, as pointed out by the grandparent, high altitude parachuting is a solution in search of a problem.

        If we had a need for an emergency system to bring astronauts down to 100,000 feet

        We'd slap ourselves on the forehead and design the emergency system to bring them down to 30,000 feet, or more likely all the way to the ground. 100,00 feet is a stupid altitude to leave an emergency capsule since you're too hig

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          And you've gotten to 30,000 feet - there's no particular reason to leave the safety of the capsule for the complexity and risk of ejecting or otherwise departing the capsule for a parachute jump. Might as well come all the way to the surface.

          But you're assuming a capsule which does not exist; if you have a full reentry capsule then you're going to ride it all the way to the ground as there's little sense in having the crew eject when the weight of ejection seats would probably be more than the weight of a parachute capable of landing the whole capsule.

          I presume this is intended for a MOOSE-style system which would be an emergency means of escaping from the shuttle or a similar vehicle, which means it has to be very light and very small, not a f

          • But you're assuming a capsule which does not exist

            No, I'm assuming that if we build an escape system, it'll be rationally designed.

            I presume this is intended for a MOOSE-style system which would be an emergency means of escaping from the shuttle or a similar vehicle

            Other than the fact that the type of casualty which would lead to the need for this kind of escape system is such a far fetched edge case that you might as well stock holy water, garlic, and a gun with silver bullets as well...

            And

            • Re:Not quite... (Score:4, Interesting)

              by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @07:53PM (#32908148)

              Other than the fact that the type of casualty which would lead to the need for this kind of escape system is such a far fetched edge case that you might as well stock holy water, garlic, and a gun with silver bullets as well...

              Wihch would you rather have: a big hole in your shuttle heat shield and no chance of surviving, or a big hole in your shuttle heat shield and seven MOOSE packs in a locker that give you some chance of surviving?

              Because while you can probably spare a few hundred kilos for emergency survival, you sure aren't going to carry an escape capsule which can bring your whole crew back to Earth in comfort, just in case it's needed.

              • Wihch would you rather have: a big hole in your shuttle heat shield and no chance of surviving, or a big hole in your shuttle heat shield

                Been there done that. I've got somewhere over a year accumulated where a relatively small casualty could place me beyond rescue and certain of death - didn't bother me any. Doesn't bother any professional.

                Because while you can probably spare a few hundred kilos for emergency survival

                More like a couple of tonnes - but that doesn't matter because you can't spare ev

      • A high altitude jump like this may give us some useful data, but it does very little to pave the way for an individual descent from orbit.

        However, re-entry is largely a solved problem, whereas high-altitude parachuting isn't. If we had a need for an emergency system to bring astronauts down to 100,000 feet we could probably build a suitable heat-shield and reaction jet control system in a few months, but it won't help if their parachute fails after that.

        But thats just a small capsule. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo. Base your design off those. They all had parachute systems.

        I have been thinking about the Falcon 1 and whether you could build an ultralight capsule for it. Total payload is about 500kg, including the pilot.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          But thats just a small capsule.

          No, _it's not a capsule at all_

          You can't carry seven personal reentry capsules on a space shuttle because you have neither the space or the mass available to do so. You can carry seven parachutes and inflatable personal heat shields.

          Think ejection seat, not Apollo capsule.

          • But thats just a small capsule.

            No, _it's not a capsule at all_

            You can't carry seven personal reentry capsules on a space shuttle because you have neither the space or the mass available to do so. You can carry seven parachutes and inflatable personal heat shields.

            ...and RCS. And guidance. And surface survival gear for Antarctica and the Sahara and the North Atlantic ocean. Once you sit down and specify it I think you will come up with an Apollo size emergency return vehicle with seven to ten seats inside. If you try to use small vehicles (capsules or re-entry kits) then you waste volume and mass on duplicated services.

            • by 0123456 (636235)

              and RCS. And guidance

              Nope. You don't need guidance for an emergency reentry-vehicle following a ballistic trajectory; sure, it's nice, but if you shape the heat-shield correctly then drag will keep it pointed in the right direction so you don't burn up... at worst you need a light cold gas thruster just to get the heat-shield oriented before you hit the atmosphere.

              And where do you plan to store your Apollo-sized reentry capsule in the space shuttle? Note of course that it would have to be larger than Apollo in order to carry a

              • Well it depends on the type of escape system we need. Historically the shuttle system may have benefited from a better high altitude escape system, but I doubt a reentry capable personal system would have helped the crews in any of the failure modes we observed.

                I have long thought that the shuttle could have been an evolution of Apollo, with the flight deck being a Apollo capsule. Being able to eject and fly the flight deck may have saved the crew in both disasters.

                Since from now on we are talking about apo

    • by sznupi (719324)

      So use a personal heatshield to decelerate? [astronautix.com] (of course, it's an open question if this would turn out to be more reliable and mass-efficient than simple lifeboat capsule)

    • objects in low Earth orbit are traveling somewhere north of 14,000 mph

      That's why they jump backwards.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I was going to post something similar if I didn't find a comment like this.

      The problem--well, not the only problem, but a big one--is horizontal velocity (as in across the map and not downwards). Imagine how much propellant--even in space--it would take to accelerate you to 14,000 mph (or whatever the actual orbital velocity is--wikipedia puts the ISS at 17,000 mph). If you want to get back down to zero velocity relative to the ground, you have to have that same amount of propellant, along with steering t

    • I forget the exact value -- LEO isn't my specialty -- but objects in low Earth orbit are traveling somewhere north of 14,000 mph. (Meteors coming in from interplanetary space have even faster velocities measured in km/sec.)

      14000 mph is fast enough to reasonably measure in km/sec, as it is 6.3 km/sec.

  • by dorpus (636554)

    Is this one of those projects like the X-prize, which keeps showing the same images year after year of rockets with bubble windows that will be commercially available "soon"?

  • They're doing what NASA no longer has the balls to do.

    :%s/balls/funding

    FTFY

  • The phrase "I'm coming home!" may some day be a phrase that Major Tom may be able to support.
  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @05:42PM (#32906950) Homepage

    "They're doing what NASA no longer has the balls to do."

    It's not like an astronaut will be stepping out of a spacecraft at 100kft, he'll be burnt to a crisp and mangled by the air blast as his craft will still have considerable speed at that altitude.

    If he's doing a personal (individual) recovery as suggested by another poster, then the astronaut will be riding in a small capsule and parachutes for slowing down small capsules are a long solved problem.

    In short, with regards to space safety, this is pretty much a meaningless stunt as it has nothing in common with any but the most far fetched of scenarios.

  • "...would be attempting to jump from a balloon at least 120,000 feet altitude...

    But they're also doing important work, potentially groundbreaking work."

    I see what u did there.

  • "break the sound barrier, and live. "

    not sure if this qualifies, but a supersonic bailout from a plane has been done decades ago from an F-100.

    " In the first known case of a man surviving a supersonic ejection, George Smith(IIRC will be verified) ejected from an F-100 Super Sabre in a dive. It was known that he ejected supersonically due to eyewitnesses who heard and saw the ejection from nearby based on the sounds of the sonic booms and the visual clues of the crash. "

    http://www.ejectionsite.com/ejectfaq.h [ejectionsite.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:21PM (#32908350)

    "But they're also doing important work, potentially groundbreaking work."

    Only if the parachute fails...

  • Just a few decades ago, and for thousands of years previous, there were very few great advancements that did not put someone's life in jeopardy. In my mind, that is where NASA went wrong.

    I would wager we could build a space shuttle replacement for 1/10th the cost but with double of the failure rate and still have the best and brightest clamoring to get aboard!

    Today, there are billions wasted and many opportunities to learn missed in an effort to prevent catastrophe. Though I understand the logic, I think

    • Just a few decades ago, and for thousands of years previous, there were very few great advancements that did not put someone's life in jeopardy. In my mind, that is where NASA went wrong.

      Where I think NASA went wrong was the Apollo Program. Kennedy wanted something showy, something big to prove American superiority to the world and lift the morale of the nation whose ego was badly bruised by early advances by the Soviets. Less showy, but more scientific proposals were rejected. As a result of that legacy, NASA keeps being distracted from useful and exciting projects by the glitzy, but ultimately dead end and useless 'manned' space program.

      Nevertheless, NASA has got many things right - Vikin

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