Space Rescue Technology In Fact And Fiction
NASA is preparing a backup shuttle and rescue crew in case shuttle Discovery has problems in May. Rescue flights have been become more of an issue since shuttle Columbia broke up in reentry two years ago. Space shuttle commander Steve Lindsey states "Our emphasis on return to flight is getting the tank fixed and the tools in place to inspect to make sure that we don't have damage -- and if we do have damage, to hopefully repair it. This [rescue mission] would be a last resort. Hopefully, we will never see this."
Emergency rescue capabilities will be limited to missions to the space station to retrieve stranded astronauts; other scenarios have been studied, but none have been trained for.
Scientists and science fiction athors have been thinking about emergency rescues in space for almost as long as they have thought about voyages in space. In his 1938 novel Triplanetary, E.E. "Doc" Smith wrote about emergency lifeboats:
...the three armored forms darted away toward their only hope of escape - an emergency lifeboat that could be launched through the shell of the great globe.
(Read more about emergency lifeboats)
Smith also wrote about an ablative heat shield in the same book (which was very similar to an actual escape pod concept called an "airmat"). In 1941, author Harry Walton wrote about a rescue ship - he called it a "lifeship" - in Moon of Exile. In 1946, Arthur C. Clarke published his first short story, titled Rescue Party, in which aliens on a survey mission arrived to try to evacuate humanity from Spaceship Earth in the face of the sun going nova:
Alveron read the message from base: then, with a flick of a tentacle that no human eye could have followed, he pressed the General Attention button...
"We are approaching a sun which is about to become a nova. There are ten planets, with a civilization on the third. It is our tragic mission to contact that doomed race, and if possible save some of its members."
The crew rescue vehicle that most movie-goers are familiar with is of course the escape pod in George Lucas' Star Wars. It offered room for several crew members (or droids); R2 programs the pod's course.
"You've led us through half the ship, and to what...?"[Threepio] broke off, staring in disbelief as the squat robot reached up with one clawed limb and snapped the seal on a lifeboat hatch...
Artoo was already working his way into the cramped boat pod. It was just large enough to hold several humans, and its design was not laid out to accommodate mechanicals. Artoo had some trouble negotiating the awkward little compartment.
"Hey," a startled Threepio called, admonishing, "you're not permitted in there..."
(Read more about the Star Wars escape pod)
(Star Wars Episode IV Escape Pod)
Scientists and engineers have, of course, also considered this problem. Werner Von Braun pushed the idea of a manned space station in the 1960's; with it he also designed a protective ejection type capsule. A parachute with steel-wire mesh reinforcements and solid rocket booster would break the fall; antenna and radar beacon activate automatically.
(From Von Braun Rescue Vehicles)
After the 1986 shuttle Challenger accident, NASA started seriously looking at alternatives for the Space Station. Some proposals even included the use of refurbished Apollo lunar capsules from the 1960's. The only completed crew rescue capability ever provided by NASA is the Apollo CSM rescue craft. A kit was created to fit out an Apollo command module with five crew couches; in the event that a Skylab crew ran into trouble, a rescue CSM would be launched to rendezvous with the station.
This capability was created partly in response to the sci-fi movie Marooned, released in 1969, starring Gregory Peck, David Janssen and Gene Hackman (among many others). The movie explored what happens when a problem develops in space and astronauts are stranded.
(From NASA Rescue CSM craft)
During the last decade, NASA developed the X-38 prototype, which was intended as an emergency vehicle for up to seven crewmembers on the International Space Station. It would have been carried up to the ISS by shuttle, and attached to a docking port. The craft offered a seven hour life support system, a steerable parafoil parachute deployed at 40,000 feet to carry it through to landing. It was intended to have fully automated navigation and control systems. This program has been cancelled.
(From NASA X-38)
Read more at NASA readies possible space rescue.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/1/2005)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 3 )
Related News Stories -
Elon Musk Tweets Versions Of Clarke's Operation Cleanup
'Fortunately, the old orbital forts were superbly equipped for this task.' - Arthur C. Clarke, 1978.
Espresso Telescope Searches For Exoplanets
'These instruments were the wonderful ones our astronomers had perfected.' - Edmond Hamilton, 1936.
Manned Maneuvering Unit From 1984
'The glittering little rocket bolted to the black iron behind him.' - Jack Williamson, 1933.
Astronaut Gets Younger In Space
'So what we're looking for now is not an antibiotic - an anti-life drug - but an anti-agathic, an anti-death drug...' - James Blish, 1957.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Las Vegas Humans Ready To Strike Over Robots
'A worker replaced by a nubot... had to be compensated.'
You'll Regrow That Limb, One Day
'... forcing the energy transfer which allowed him to regrow his lost fingers.'
Elon Musk Seeks To Create 1941 Heinlein Speedster
'The car surged and lifted, clearing its top by a negligible margin.'
Somnox Sleep Robot - Your Sleepytime Cuddlebot
Science fiction authors are serious about sleep, too.
Real-Life Macau or Ghost In The Shell
Art imitates life imitates art.
Has Climate Change Already Been Solved By Aliens?
'I had explained," said Nessus, "that our civilisation was dying in its own waste heat.'
First 3D Printed Human Corneas From Stem Cells
Just what we need! Lots of spare parts.
VirtualHome: Teaching Robots To Do Chores Around The House
'Just what did I want Flexible Frank to do? - any work a human being does around a house.'
Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) Workshop
SF writers have thought about this since the 19th century.
Nanorobots Roam Your Bloodstream, Cleaning It
Too bad they won't have lasers, though...
Galini 3D Printed Sleeping Pod Tiny Houses
'The houses are prefabricated units...'
MIT Boffins Create Psychopath AI On Purpose
There's a lesson in this for neural net AI engineers everywhere.
Skin Electronics 3D Printed
'June's body is a tracery of lambent lines, like some arcane capillary circuitry...'
Artificial Sensory Neurons For Prosthetics, Robots
Great for humans and robots!
China Uses Artificial Intelligence To Grade Student Papers
Looks like the City Fathers are starting to take over China's education system.
Electronic Tongues Will Rule The Kitchen
'Install taste buds in the end of one tentacle...'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories