NASA's Astronaut Rescue Ball

Thanks to @AeroDork for reminding us about NASA's cool astronaut rescue ball:


(NASA's Astronaut Rescue Ball)

Fans of golden age sf great EE 'Doc' Smith recall the special "re-entry ball" with an ablative heat shield used in his 1934 novel Triplanetary; the device was used to jump from a supersonic plane traveling at 2,000 miles per hour at the very edge of the atmosphere:

Back toward the trailing edges then, to a small escape-hatch beside which was fastened a dull black ball... He gasped as the air rushed out into near-vacuum... He rolled the ball out onto the hatch, where he opened it: two hinged hemispheres, each heavily padded with molded composition resembling sponge rubber...

...He curled up into one half of the ball; the other half closed over him and locked. The hatch opened. Ball and closely-prisoned man plummeted downward..

And as the ball bulleted downward on a screaming slant, it shrank!

...a synthetic which air-friction would erode away, molecule by molecule, so rapidly that no perceptible fragment of it would reach ground.

Read more about the re-entry ball with ablative heat shield, including other references.

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