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Space United States

NASA Prepares for Space Rescues 249

wallstreetprodigy23 copies and pastes "Space shuttle commander Steve Lindsey is preparing for a mission he hopes will never launch: the rescue of other astronauts in orbit. If a crisis arises during shuttle Discovery's planned return to flight in May, Lindsey and a crew of three could be called upon to lift off aboard sister ship Atlantis on an emergency mission that would be the first in the history of human space exploration. Rescue flights were hotly debated at NASA after shuttle Columbia broke up in the skies above Texas two years ago this Tuesday. Questions arose about whether Columbia's seven astronauts could have been saved. Because of the accident, NASA will have a backup shuttle and rescue crew ready for at least the next two flights in case another ship suffers damage similar to what brought down Columbia."
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NASA Prepares for Space Rescues

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  • by fembots ( 753724 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:04PM (#11523009) Homepage
    If Columbia is used as an example, shouldn't NASA be looking at policies that allow them to delay a launch and/or return, and conduct a thorough inspection of the craft? From what I have read (from the transcripts), it was too late for Columbia to do anything by the time they realized something was wrong. Catching Genesis mid-air with a helicopter didn't work.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:05PM (#11523023)

    be good practice for them and the whole world benefits at the same time

    all for less than the price of a months war in Iraq []

  • it seems good news (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Paolo DF ( 849424 ) * on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:06PM (#11523031)
    So, they assume that somehow troubles in space can be solved with a rescue mission. This is good. I think people is more incline to think that space troubles are disastrous.
  • Manned spaceflight? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Toby The Economist ( 811138 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:10PM (#11523054)
    > ...because of the accident, NASA will have a
    > backup shuttle and rescue crew ready for at
    > least the next two flights in case another ship
    > suffers damage similar to what brought down
    > Columbia."

    It took a hundred flights for the Columbia failure mode to occur. There has been no other flight where an in-flight emergency occured such that rescue might be considered.

    Bearing this in mind, what's the point in having a rescue shuttle ready for the next two flights only?

    Always having a rescue shuttle available would be useful, but which probably isn't practical, since there are now only three Shuttles.

    It seems to me there is a lack of proper vision in the space programme.

    We have manned spaceflight, but being used in a way where unmmaned spaceflight could be perfectly well used instead (probably at lower cost, and certainly with zero risk to human life).

    Manned spaceflight *is* vital, but not for Shuttle flights! manned spaceflight is necessary to establish colonies on other moons and planets.

    Humans will not really start colonizing other worlds, though, until the Space Elevator is built; then it will become practical.

    I expect this to occur within my lifetime, assuming we don't destroy the planet first.

  • Rescuing Russians? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:12PM (#11523080)
    Hmm, I wonder if this system could also be used to rescue Russian, Chinese or even Europeran astronauts in orbit in the future, and if NASA would use it for this. This is surely the kind of thing that would be an ideal colabriative mission beteen nations.
  • by Bob_Robertson ( 454888 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:18PM (#11523124) Homepage
    Your premise seems to be that bureaucracies should act rationally. They Do Not.

    Public Choice Theory demonstrates that what is "rational" to a government bureaucrat is not "rational" under the logical framework of private enterprise or individual action. The motivations are all messed up, as viewed from the outside.

    The pioneers of space were expendable, to the bureaucratic mind, because creating a method of "rescue" would cost more than training new recruits and weathering the bad publicity.

    The rocket scientists themselves were employed to do a job, and if they didn't like it they could seek employment elsewhere.

  • The idea was that the satellite could come to you.
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:34PM (#11523262) Journal
    Always having a rescue shuttle available would be useful, but which probably isn't practical, since there are now only three Shuttles.

    I wonder. A shuttle surely doesn't have to be on the pad and fuelled up. It just needs to be in one piece and launchable. They need to do this anyway for the next mission. It should be okay.

    The only downside is it would slow down the rate that they can launch shuttles. They would have to have 2 in service per launch and only have one being refitted at the time.
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:39PM (#11523294)
    the whole world benefits

    And how does the whole world not benefit from the fact that more than half of the Iraqi population just stepped up and voted, launching a democracy in an region famous for embracing midieval thoughts about things like space shuttles? Come on now. These things are not mutually exclusive.
  • Weight and balance. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by reality-bytes ( 119275 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:41PM (#11523315) Homepage

    The Shuttle's return mode is as an Aircraft (glider) and as such it needs to keep its Centre of Gravity within acceptable limits.

    Just adding 7 persons to the front-end of the shuttle would undoubtedly shift the C of G of an unladen craft quite a way forward. Whether this would go beyond the C of G limits I cannot say. The only obvious solution to the C of G problem would be pumping liquid stores and / or Hydrazine aft.

    However, I do not believe they are intending to tackle this problem. My guess is that the first launches after return to service may only have crews of three or four, thus enabling a 'rescue' flight with a crew of three to come back with a total complement of seven.

    The other issue with bringing back more than seven would be adequate seating to prevent the inevitable injuries which could occur during re-entry for an un-restrained person.

  • by AmPz ( 572913 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:43PM (#11523326)
    I'am quite sure I have read something long ago that there is in fact an agreement between the various space agencies in the world that if a crew is in danger, any agency with an available spacecraft will make a rescue attempt. I might be wrong. But it would make alot more sense to have an inter-agency cooperation regarding space rescue then for each agency to have backup spacecrafts and crews ready at all time.
  • by jacksonj04 ( 800021 ) <> on Sunday January 30, 2005 @06:54PM (#11523412) Homepage
    Problems in space shouldn't need a fully stocked shuttle ready to go in 24 hours, they should have some method of getting astronauts back onto earth without needing to waste time at this end.

    Escape modules or 'lifeboats' would be a much nicer solution. Especially if (I saw this on one of the comments further down) the lifeboats are sitting idle in orbit anyway and can propel themselves to the shuttle.

    Hell, even ready-to-go unmanned rockets with lifeboats could be launched from points on earth to almost any orbit very quickly. I would rather be climbing into a re-entry ready pod than wait for another shuttle to rendezvous with me. Notice the ISS has an escape pod and doesn't rely on Thunderbirds.
  • by jerryasher ( 151512 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @07:25PM (#11523660)
    Yes, I don't know why I need a smoke detector, fire extinguisher, air bags or seat belts either. EXPENSIVE!!!

    And don't get me started on inflatable ramps in airplanes, or life rafts in ferry boats. All of this is ridiculous given that the vast majority of people never need them.

    Jebus, just realized that many buildings have automatic sprinklers, yet when I cruise around the city, I almost never see buildings that have burnt down.

    Bastards at my apartment complex used sheetrock rated for a 45 minute fire. No wonder they charge so damned much for rent.

    Fucking wankers on 9/11 used boxcutters (no evidence to that actually but that's a different rant). Now whenever I go to the airport, even my fingernail clippers are suspect. WHAT IS TSA THINKING?

    After Sioux City Iowa, I understand the MD/Boeing and the FAA started rewiring DC10s and MD11s to make sure that all four hydraulic lines aren't routed along the same line. Talk about planning for yesterday's battles! As if! As if an engine would ever explode again. And no wonder those damn planes are so expensive. Can you imagine even putting in quadruply redundant systems in the first place?

    Sheesh, you're absolutely right.

  • by Johnno74 ( 252399 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @08:31PM (#11524151)
    I heard a very sensible sounding option just after the Columbia accident which has since faded away, which would seem to give the best of both worlds: it leaves the door open for an orbital rescue, without the expense & bother of having a 2nd shuttle prepped to go.

    Instead of either having a shuttle on "warm standby" (which must cost millions per day) or skimping on the normal procedures to get rescue mission up there before food, air & power run out (playing double or nothing really), isn't it more practical to have an unmanned rocket stocked with supplies standing by that can be lifed off with just a few days preparation.

    This rocket could be fueled and match orbits with the damaged shuttle, and the shuttle could dock and take the supplies onboard, and then the astronauts major problem before a properly propared rescue mission arrives would be boredom.

    Maybe chuck a few gameboys onto the supply rocket ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 30, 2005 @08:38PM (#11524227)
    Individuals and corporations do not behave "rationally" either. Even when there is a course of action that is clearly superior you cannot count on everyone or even the majority of people to take it. Sometimes there are psychological factors that make certain choices appear better or worse than they really are.

    Few things are well-behaved enough to be as predictable as economists would like. The standard tactic of using the market to induce metrics for variables that can't be easily quantified is only valid in a limited set of circumstances.
  • by seanda-geek ( 834803 ) on Sunday January 30, 2005 @08:46PM (#11524296)
    I've always thought that humans and cargo should launch using seperate vehicles. Big dumb boosters for cargo and small tough protected vehicles for humans. Make the human vehicle reasonable aerodynamic for atmospheric flight reasons and simple to launch. Air launch possibly? We know a lot about making small tough vehicles (war planes) and we know a lot about air launch (SpaceShip 1, X-15 etc). I was taught to never put all my items in one basket. It works in computer science, why not at NASA?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 30, 2005 @09:27PM (#11524609)
    Yeah, the risks are, if something goes wrong, and it's not fatal, NASA will mount a multi-million dollar rescue mission. At least on the next two missions. What's your point? Just because you sign up for something risky doesn't mean that you should have an expectation that nobody will ever try to help you if something bad happens. (cf. Apollo 13, and how screwed they'd have been if ground control hadn't figured out a solution.)
  • by deadweight ( 681827 ) on Monday January 31, 2005 @10:47AM (#11527967)
    In the "Age of Exploration", sailors were considered expendable and no one much cared that half of them or more would not survive the voyage. Also keep in mind these voyages were driven by conquest and profit. I really don't think we want to duplicate that era exactly. The early days of aviation, which you make some refference to, are a better example. It was a given that some would die to advance the state of the art, but it was also a given that every effort would be made to make the next airplane better and safer. The goal was practical aircraft that the general public could ride in without fearing that they would die before they got to Miami or wherever the discount vacation fares went to back then. BTW, Lindbergh was famous for flying the Atlantic solo in a single engine airplane. At that time engines were not considered reliable enough to do this and it was also assumed you would need at least a navigator as part of the crew. FYI - The USA would let you take off for Europe with no radios and no survival gear, but Canada will not and that is where most people leave from now.
  • Re:Speed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by merlin_jim ( 302773 ) <James.McCracken@ ... m ['pul' in gap]> on Monday January 31, 2005 @01:09PM (#11529512)
    Have you seen the rocket boosters they use to launch the shuttles? They'd need the same boosters to slow it down again. And then they'd need way, way bigger rockets just to lift those boosters into orbit in the first place. The total amount of fuel required is staggering.

    Not necessarily. Electromagnetic braking against the earth's field is possible. There are some practical limitations to the technology right now... but we've only tried it once! The biggest barrier is making it efficient enough to make a big difference in the entry velocity. The second biggest is figuring out what to do with all that energy you're creating, though since it's already high voltage a forward-pointing ion engine might be a possibility.

    The third problem is resistive wire heating. If we could make a spoolable paintable superconducting wire, we could solve that easily too. Why paintable? Give it white paint to reflect sunlight and you can probably keep it at liquid nitrogen temperatures with a moderate heatsink system...
  • by Autonomous Crowhard ( 205058 ) on Monday January 31, 2005 @04:28PM (#11531645)
    While it would be feasible to rescue the people off of the shuttle, what about rescuing the shuttle itself?

    If the shuttle is abandoned in orbit you can bet it will be in a 120-160 mile LEO. Given the apsect ratio of the craft and the height of the orbit, you can bet the craft wouldn't stay up long. That means that NASA would have three choices: 1) boost the craft to a higher more stable orbit until something can be done, 2) perform a fix and try to land the craft unmanned, 3) de-orbit quickly so the craft wreckage lands where they expect.

    1) Unless they plan to have Atlantis permanently tasked as the rescue ship, there is no way this can be done. The booster would have to already be in the cargo bay and good to go. You would prefer to not have to tell the folk in the VAB they've got 1 week plus to take out what ever payload is in the bay and replace it with the booster.

    2) This one might actually be feasible. If you assume that the craft is already lost then you can try your fix and bring it down unmanned. If I remember correctly, NASA has already done some tests on completely autonomous landings. Aiming for Edwards AFB gives you lots of room to land and plenty of open area for wreckage if things don't work.

    3) Unfortunately we know that NASA/JPL are all to willing to bring down currently functional spacecraft in the name of a known wreckage footprint. The main issue with this would be how long they can wait. How long could the shuttle stay on orbit unmanned and still be able to perform a realtively stable de-orbit? I'm guessing not long.

    Now consider this scenario: There is an impact on the leading edge of the wing. The tiles are damaged but they don't appear to be pierced. It's a good bet the craft could be brought down safely. Will NASA have the will to take the chance of losing the crew?

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.