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NASA Will Man Destruct Switch Just In Case

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the explosions-are-cool dept.

NASA 196

Ant writes "Popular Mechanics reports if the looming Discovery mission or any other between now and the spacecraft's retirement loses control, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is prepared to ditch it in the Atlantic ocean — or blow it up. The article also shows complete no-fly-zone maps and a photograph of the switch."

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Four Buttons? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360426)

I don't understand why there are four switches. I mean, I understand "Arm" and "Destruct", but why "test"? Does that blow up just a small section of the shuttle? I would have thought that turning off the "Arm" would be the same as "Safe"

I know, I know ... it's the engineers having a laugh. Getting a kick out of the confused looks on stupid people like myself.

Re:Four Buttons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360480)

Safe switches between unsafe destruction and safe destruction.

Re:Four Buttons? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360514)

The "Test" button probably checks the detonation circuits, WITHOUT igniting the actual charges. And the "Safe" button is probably for permanently disarming the charges once the shuttle's in orbit.

Re:Four Buttons? (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360806)

The "Test" button probably checks the detonation circuits, WITHOUT igniting the actual charges. And the "Safe" button is probably for permanently disarming the charges once the shuttle's in orbit.
The charges are on the SRBs, not the shuttle.

Re:Four Buttons? (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362064)

All the more reason to use Test and Safe. Keeping a detonation system active on rockets that fall into the ocean [wikipedia.org] seems dangerous to fish and c^Hships (though a well-planned early detonation could allay risks if the boosters fall towards land or the aforementioned ships).

Sometimes you just have to blow 'em up on the way down, I guess.

Re:Four Buttons? (5, Funny)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360846)

Sure hope those are labeled correctly... just in case anyone at NASA would think it's a funny prank, I recommend NASA add one more rule to their launch procedures: "DO NOT lauch on April 1st"

Best use a time window, to allow for differences in 'local time' (a relative notion for space operations)

Re:Four Buttons? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360906)

That's like not running an emergency room on April 1st because a doctor might decide it is funny to cut a patients head off.

Re:Four Buttons? (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361316)

That's like not running an emergency room on April 1st because a doctor might decide it is funny to cut a patients head off.
While I agree it wouldn't be funny, you picked a poor comparison because you can't choose when to have an emergency. I wouldn't put anything important on April 1st if it could be avoided, because people are all sorts of distracted making pranks, being subject to pranks, reading about other pranks and in general not focusing as well as they normally would. So no, I wouldn't hold a launch on April 1st.

Re:Four Buttons? (3, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361364)

You are insinuating that the people who work in life and death situations at NASA are incapable of acting in a professional manner. It's preposterous.

Re:Four Buttons? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23361702)

You are insinuating that there is no level of risk. It's a little "out there", but it's possible.

Re:Four Buttons? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23361298)

I like the general layout of the buttons.

The only recommendation I would make is to move the distruct button to the right by another half to full inch.

Re:Four Buttons? (4, Funny)

theeddie55 (982783) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361686)

The only recommendation I would make is to move the distruct button to the right by another half to full inch.

They tried that... Not aesthetically pleasing.

Re:Four Buttons? (2, Interesting)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360852)

This is not uncommon for many such systems where you want to verify the circuit to see that it actually will fire.

The solution is even simpler, it just adds a resistor in the circuit so that the current flowing through the detonators are below ignition current.

Re:Four Buttons? (1, Redundant)

yams69 (986130) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361022)

I had heard once that there were two buttons the RSO had to use to blow up the shuttle, and that the first button activated an indicator in the cockpit that let the astronauts know what was about to happen. Perhaps the "Test" button also activated that light?

I had also heard that the astronauts would visit the RSO before their flights with pictures of their families, just to be sure he knows exactly whose lives he would be affecting if he had to destroy the shuttle.

Re:Four Buttons? (4, Interesting)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361256)

I had also heard that the astronauts would visit the RSO before their flights with pictures of their families, just to be sure he knows exactly whose lives he would be affecting if he had to destroy the shuttle.
That's interesting, I'd actually heard the opposite - that the RSO is not allowed to meet the astronauts at all in order to ensure that they make rational, not emotional, decisions if it comes down to it.

Re:Four Buttons? (3, Funny)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362132)

I had heard once that there were two buttons the RSO had to use to blow up the shuttle, and that the first button activated an indicator in the cockpit that let the astronauts know what was about to happen.
Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Only it's not an indication-light. It actually activates a system which releases streamers and balloons, while loud celebratory music blares out of hidden speakers, and an amplified voice yells "CONGRATULATIONS!!! YOU'VE WON A FABULOUS TRIP TO PARADISE!!!!".

Re:Four Buttons? (2, Informative)

Detritus (11846) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360654)

The test function allows you to verify that everything is working without blowing anything up or endangering anyone. Think of it as a "NOP" command to the launch vehicle's range safety system.

Re:Four Buttons? (4, Funny)

torstenvl (769732) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360710)

NOP? For shame, wasting your delay slots

Re:Four Buttons? (3, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360678)

The test switch only works once.

Re:Four Buttons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360986)

They also forgot the Magic/More Magic switch.

It was High Tech in the '50s... (1)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361192)

back when a SPST push button was cool, especially if it lit up on activation. That panel could be left over from the Mercury, Gemini or Apollo program.

If I were sitting on hundreds of tons of explosive fuel, I'd feel better if it took two switches and two buttons activated in deliberate order to end my life.

Re:Four (Identical) Buttons (and Switches)? (3, Insightful)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361324)

I am no expert in man-machine interfaces, but I think I would make the Destruct switch a different kind of switch and color than the rest of the switches. It should be red and the others orange or yellow or something.

I would just want to minimize as much as possible the chance that the destruct switch was accidentally activated if things got really hairy and fast moving and the range officer had to be prepared to blow the thing up.

I know they toggles have the red guards on them so the officer would have to flip it up before actuating, and from the article it appears to be a two-step process (arm then destruct), but four identical switches next to each other for such a critical function just seems a bit risky to me. I think I might even make it a two-person job where the 2nd could destruct only after the first armed.

But then I realize that by delaying the destruction, many more lives could be put in danger if the assembly was headed over populated areas. Still, four identical switches and buttons right next to each other, with such dissimilar functions seems a bit risky to me.

Slashdot Translation (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23361506)

Test: ping

Arm: login root

Destruct: rm / -rf

Safe: logout

Re:Slashdot Translation (1)

foobsr (693224) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361904)

genius@work :)

CC.

photograph (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360458)

I looked at TFA, and I gotta tell you, it's an exciting picture of the switch. Actually, it looks like FOUR switches and FOUR buttons. Well worth going to the site to see it.

Re:photograph (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360814)

I looked at TFA, and I gotta tell you, it's an exciting picture of the switch. Actually, it looks like FOUR switches and FOUR buttons. Well worth going to the site to see it.
That sounds like a logitech mouse.

Re:photograph (2, Insightful)

bit trollent (824666) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360820)

I like how there is a cut up pice of printer paper with larger labels around the buttons.

That tells me that somebody looked at the Space Shuttle self destruct buttons and said, "You know this 'test' button looks alot like the 'destruct' button. We should probably do something about that."

Re:photograph (1)

XSpud (801834) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361054)

I'm disappointed with the destruct button. I was hoping for something more like the system used on the Nostromo in Alien.

Re:photograph (1)

qzulla (600807) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361596)

But there is only one destruct switch so the headline is accurate.

Oh, we can argue from now until doomsday about this switch and that switch (and probably will knowing this crowd) but in the end it is THAT switch.

It is a cool pic. At least it is not a button on a screen that could tell us "The application destroy shuttle has unexpectedly quit"

qz

Re:photograph (1)

ralewi1 (919193) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361848)

...it looks like FOUR switches and FOUR buttons....
I don't see four buttons, I see a turn switch on the far left bottom of the panel with four positions (Disable, Enable 1, Enable 2, and Test), and four covered switches (Arm/Test/Safe/Destruct as noted before.) The rectangles above the covered switches are indicator lights straight out of the mid-20th century. It appears there's a four-step, at a minimum, process to terminate a shuttle in flight - enable, arm, safe, destruct.

People inside? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360462)

Didn't RTFA, but are they planning on blowing it up with people inside, if something goes wrong.

Re:People inside? (4, Informative)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360516)

Didn't RTFA, but are they planning on blowing it up with people inside, if something goes wrong.


Yes, they are. They always have. *Every* NASA rocket launch includes a self-destruct to prevent ground casualties. This includes the manned missions. In such cases where it would be used, the crew is either dead or will unavoidably be dead very shortly, and the lives on the ground must be saved.

Re:People inside? (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360746)

Yes, this is not news. But they have a picture of THE SWITCHES. Ooh, aah.

Re:People inside? (2, Funny)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360824)

Yes, this is not news. But they have a picture of THE SWITCHES. Ooh, aah.
That's so that visitors know what not to fuck with while on tour.

Re:People inside? (4, Informative)

Rorschach1 (174480) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360880)

And if you need an example of why those destruct systems are required, watch this [youtube.com] .

I've met at least one of the Range Safety Officers while working out at Cape Canaveral. It's not something they like to talk about much, when it comes to the Shuttle.

Re:People inside? (3, Informative)

tgatliff (311583) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361266)

You really do not need to find an example... They used this procedure during the Challenger accident. Meaning, once the main booster had already exploded, they quickly detonated the individual spiraling side boosters to prevent potential problems. In this case the crew and craft had already separated and were presumed already dead, but they still needed to use the detonation procedure...

Re:People inside? (2, Insightful)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361268)

I've never seen a young AF captain look so old or so relieved as when passing the last milestone, "go for orbit" on a manned launch.

Re:People inside? (1)

laejoh (648921) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360972)

the crew is either dead

So who'll push the button, eh?

Not news (4, Informative)

FuturePastNow (836765) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360468)

This is such a non-story. NASA has a Range Safety Officer for every single launch, manned or not, and always has.

Re:Not news (5, Insightful)

XNormal (8617) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360594)

The press does not exist to provide information but to provoke emotion. Showing the actual button that destroyes a spacecraft with human occupants achieves this effect nicely.

Re:Not news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360794)

I agree. Most 'press' organizations, especially television, have moved from reporting the news to sensationalizing or dramatizing stories to feed the needs of the voyeuristic masses. I want to beat my head into the wall when a reporter asks stupid questions such as "How did you feel when you watched your daughter get run over by the school bus?" True story.

Re:Not news (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360928)

The press does not exist to provide information but to provoke emotion.
Hate to be a spelling nut, bit I think you misspelled sell advertising.

Re:Not news (1)

boris111 (837756) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361114)

Sounds to me like an advertisement to keep funding going to the Orion spacecraft and making sure congress doesn't allow the space shuttle to continue after 2010. Oh look our shuttles are so risky now we need a self destruct button.

Re:Not news (1)

Dr. Cody (554864) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361180)

The press does not exist to provide information but to provoke emotion. Showing the actual button that destroyes a spacecraft with human occupants achieves this effect nicely.
But you've have to have a cold, dead soul not to get a tiny thrill just seeing the thing.

Re:Not news (5, Funny)

moteyalpha (1228680) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360700)

Could we get a set of buttons like that on this article? If the comments are going down in flames, CmdrTaco could self destruct the article.

Re:Not news (5, Funny)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360842)

Some people get them for every post. It's called -1 [troll||redundant||offtopic||overrated]. The people with them are called mods. Watch what they do to both our poor posts now.

Re:Not news (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23361144)

Non-story to you, but no to everyone. For instance, people dismiss the idea a building housing evidence from a federal investigation into federal corruption could be deliberately brought down under the right circumstances. NASA's engineers thought of it -- so why not another part of the federal government?

Shuttle range safety destruct and aborts (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361804)

I've read some things to indicate that, when possible, the crew would be given enough warning to attempt a "fast sep", which is an emergency separation from the tank and boosters while still under powered flight. You don't have much of a chance of surviving this, but it's better than not trying at all.

I hope their communication channels are secure (4, Interesting)

The Fanta Menace (607612) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360498)

...would be pretty nasty if someone if someone figured out how the radio comms for this function worked.

Encoded Signals (4, Insightful)

reality-bytes (119275) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360658)

According to NASA documentation [nasa.gov] , the SRB Range Safety system is operated by encoded signals.

From the description in the document, it sounds like one coded signal to 'arm' and a second coded signal to 'fire'. I'd bet that due to the nature of the system, it's transmission method will be so simple that it rarely needs to be tested and as such gives little opportunity for homicidal black-hat analysis.

Finally, I'll also bet that the codes are as top-secret as to-secret can be (as in: Get caught with this and you'll disappear forever). It wouldn't surprise me if the codes are created and handled by just one person on the day of use and never used again. Or perhaps two people where only one person knows the arm code and the other the fire code before the system is finally set.

However it's done, I'd like to think that a hell of a lot of thought went into system security ;)

Re:Encoded Signals (1)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361234)

Likely these keys would be Top Secret, Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) with a codeword.

I doubt the codeword is BOOM or OOPS.

Re:Encoded Signals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23361426)

Try OPE...

Re:Encoded Signals (1)

Cally (10873) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361536)

Get caught with this and you'll disappear forever).
Sure, you'd be in serious trouble, but there'd be no big drama to the STS program per se; they'd just change the keys. (Cos if it's real crypto, they'll have revocation processes and suchlike. Right? Sure they will. Uh huh. )

Well, there are only ten more Shuttle flights to go now (assuming they don't lose another vehicle.)

Re:Encoded Signals (2, Funny)

barry99705 (895337) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361978)

It probably uses WEP.

Re:Encoded Signals (4, Interesting)

Rorschach1 (174480) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362122)

Oddly enough, I've seen the hardware specifications for at least one of the command destruct transmitters. That part wasn't classified, but I'm not sure where I came across it - might have been in some old Range documentation I found in the office I inherited. I don't remember much, but I'm pretty sure there were at least a couple of different designs in use. I think one was a redundant 68HC11-based system. All I really remember is that the design struck me as very conservative and architecturally simple. I don't recall any mention of crypto procedures and protocols - what I read only concerned getting the destruct message from its origin to the vehicle.

I'm sure the codes are tightly controlled. It's really not hard to design a very secure system, when it only needs to send one message, and that very rarely. An arbitrarily long, purely random key generated and distributed to the transmitter and receiver under tight security would do it. Denial-of-service would be a more difficult problem to address, but then jamming the signals isn't exactly easy when you're competing with some fairly high-power transmitters on high-gain dishes aimed right at the receiver. And they've got RF measurement vans that I assume patrol for interfering signals, malicious or otherwise.

Re:I hope their communication channels are secure (2, Informative)

Jafafa Hots (580169) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361694)

In Chris Kraft's autobiography, he talks about the range safety officer's job, and how during the lead-up to the first Mercury flights they were worried about that. There were always Russian "fishing trawlers" off the coast watching every test launch, and they were concerned about the Soviets blowing up a manned launch.

Besides encoding the signals, the other thing they did was to use a different code during tests than they would during a real manned launch.

Space Shuttle Discovery (-1, Flamebait)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360530)

Blow it up? with people on board? sure am glad i don't work for NASA...
build a newer & better launch vehicle, the space shuttle belongs in an automobile wrecking yard (or a museum)...

Re:Space Shuttle Discovery (-1, Flamebait)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360550)

build a newer & better launch vehicle, the space shuttle belongs in an automobile wrecking yard (or a museum)...

this will happen just as soon as the sheeple wake up and stop funding the war on *.

In other words, if you want to further space travel and/or exploitation, invest in private enterprise which is seeking to do just that. NASA is well past the point of wasting more money than it spends usefully.

Re:Space Shuttle Discovery (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360918)

Don't forget that the space shuttle design was partly decided on a military basis to be able to launch military equipment. If it was to be a person transportation shuttle it would have been a lot smaller.

At least it has been useful to launch a lot of various heavy items during it's time, among them the Hubble telescope. I don't know if there have been much military use in reality of that large cargo space, and I suppose that is has been a lot of waste since most military satellites has been a lot smaller and launched by Delta rockets and similar.

But a better design would have been a modular design where the person part of the shuttle could have been launched separately. And just add a cargo module on demand.

Re:Space Shuttle Discovery (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360638)

build a newer & better launch vehicle, the space shuttle belongs in an automobile wrecking yard (or a museum)...
You make it sound so easy.

Re:Space Shuttle Discovery (2, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360666)

Did you just fall off the turnip truck? all rockets launched have this, manned and unmanned; all military missiles from short range and upward have this; private rockets will be required to have self-destruct capability also. Rockets bound for orbit have enough energy in their fuel tanks to equal yield of tactical nuclear weapon. If it malfunctions and heads for populated area of course it has to be destroyed, seven people on board who are going to die anyway should not take out hundreds or thousands on the ground.

Re:Space Shuttle Discovery (4, Interesting)

Jesse_42 (754610) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361032)

The other issue, just as important as the explosives, is all the other chemicals on board - many of which are highly toxic. This includes chemicals like monomethyl hydrazine (MMH) used in the Orbital Maneuvering Subsystem (OMS) and in the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) for control. It is great stuff, you mix it with nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) and they ignite with no spark or air required. At the same time, by the time you can smell it, you have been exposed to ten times the lethal dose. Remember when Columbia crashed and they told everyone not to go near the wreckage? this was one reason why.

As the parent said, remote destruct capabilities are simply par for the course when your strapping things to that much explosives and toxic chemicals. Really it should make us feel safer that NASA is honest about the risks and is willing to do what it needs to do to insure (as best as possible) public safety.

Re:Space Shuttle Discovery (2, Interesting)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361540)

Maybe the GP wants a way of putting people into space that doesn't involve rockets. A giant catapult maybe? If we'd breed stronauts that can withstand acceleration forces of, say, 200g, space exploration would be much easier.

destruct switches _should_ look like that. (5, Insightful)

Zarf (5735) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360554)

You know, if you are going to have destruct switches... they really should look like that. A big turn key, solid, metal, single function panel that does nothing else. Heavy clunky switches that tell you you've done something. Yep, if you're going to have what is essentially a "big red button" that's how it should look. There's no mistaking that for the coffee dispenser switch. Putting modern "iPhone" styling on that would be a sin.

Re:destruct switches _should_ look like that. (1)

xant (99438) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361406)

I dunno. How about if it were mounted on a black brushed metal plate with a slivery skull-and-crossbones watermark? That'd be pretty sweet.

Re:destruct switches _should_ look like that. (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361826)

A lot of stuff that means something is more function than anything else. Big machines of potential dangerous consequence have big red emergency stop buttons that shut off the machine's motors and often apply brakes.

fake clouds/weather would be pathetically funny (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360570)

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"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/03/bush.veto/index.html

whilst demanding/extorting billions to paint more targets on the bigger kids;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/12/bush.war.funding/index.html

& pretending that it isn't happening here;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article3086937.ece
all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

(yOUR elected) president al gore (deciding not to wait for the much anticipated 'lonesome al answers yOUR questions' interview here on /.) continues to attempt to shed some light on yOUR foibles. talk about reverse polarity;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3046116.ece

Re:fake clouds/weather would be pathetically funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360606)

What the fuck are you talking about and to whom are you talking?

Re:fake clouds/weather would be pathetically funny (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360634)

Seriously, what is going on with these things? Is there a stenographic message in that mess? Someone testing out AI language algorithms? I'm afraid to click "Read the rest of this comment..." because maybe someone did find the snowcrash virus.

Re:fake clouds/weather would be pathetically funny (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361512)

It's a Markov chain-based spam bot (aka "a Markov bot"). You feed it with text and it learns sentence fragments, from which it then generates sentences. These are used in spam (to try and get around Bayes filters) and occasionally on Slashdot. I have no idea what's the idea behind using a Markov bot to spam /. - it's an excessive amount of work for a post that will get downmodded quickly.

Re:fake clouds/weather would be pathetically funny (1)

roster238 (969495) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360706)

Makes perfect sense to me but I do eat a lot of mushrooms....

Re:fake clouds/weather would be pathetically funny (1)

JustShootThemAll (1284898) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360796)

Hey! Someone rediscovered Markov chains!

Where is Slashdot's self-destruct switch? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360598)

The new comments system has reduced user contributions by about 25%, so when are you going to pull the plug on this abortion?

Never, because your egos won't allow it? Or is it the corporate strings attached to your backs that make you favor appearance over functionality despite any supposed geek-cred?

Re:Where is Slashdot's self-destruct switch? (2, Informative)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360668)

You can fix that for yourself here:
http://slashdot.org/help [slashdot.org]

Already been used (5, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360632)

Not only are the destruct switches active during each and every launch, they have actually been used on one particular launch. When Challenger's [wikipedia.org] external fuel tank blew up, destroying the shuttle, the solid rocket boosters started to fly out of control.

At T+110.250, the Range Safety Officer (RSO) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station sent radio signals that activated the range safety system's "destruct" packages on board both solid rocket boosters. This was a normal contingency procedure, undertaken because the RSO judged the free-flying SRBs a possible threat to land or sea. The same destruct signal would have destroyed the External Tank had it not already disintegrated.[11]

Sounds Familiar... (3, Informative)

Kyle_Katarn-(ISF) (982133) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360692)

Computer, activate self-destruct sequence, authorization Janeway Pi-One-One-Seven.

"Warp core overload initiated"

That's how they should do it...

Re:Sounds Familiar... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360738)

Please, everyone knows the final destruct code is Zero-Zero-Destruct-Zero

Re:Sounds Familiar... (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360866)

Please, everyone knows the final destruct code is Zero-Zero-Destruct-Zero
That's the code on my luggage.

Re:Sounds Familiar... (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361046)

*explosion*

Bender: Hey, thanks, Takei, now everybody knows!

Re:Sounds Familiar... (1)

ConsistentChaos (594109) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361932)

ObPedanticTrekGeek: Three preceding zeros.

What a kewl job (1)

kurt555gs (309278) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360740)

can any of you actually imagine being a 'range safety officer'? Full govt pay, bennies, retirement, and all you have to do is sit by a switch panel during launches. Other than that it would be lots of paper reading and maybe some busy work to make it look like you are earning your pay.

It's the job I want.

Re:What a kewl job (3, Informative)

hughk (248126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360818)

RSO usually also has to do a lot of work before the launch. They are ultimately responsible that there have been no incursions into the various danger zones. This would mean they would be talking to police, coastguard as well.

Re:What a kewl job (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361418)

Plus, of course, the little bit where you have to kill a bunch of astronauts if their rocket goes off course.

Re:What a kewl job (2, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362092)

It's akin to being an executioner. You may not do your job ever but once in your life, but once you've done it you're never going to want to do it again. That's what you're getting paid for.

Re:What a kewl job (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360874)

can any of you actually imagine being a 'range safety officer'? Full govt pay, bennies, retirement, and all you have to do is sit by a switch panel during launches. Other than that it would be lots of paper reading and maybe some busy work to make it look like you are earning your pay.

It's the job I want.
You forgot about posting to /..

Re:What a kewl job (1)

HiVizDiver (640486) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361438)

Yeah, it'd be a great job if you were the person who had to turn seven people with families into a giant fireball.

Re:What a kewl job (1)

wolrahnaes (632574) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361898)

A point that's been made quite a few times so far is that if they get far enough off course that the destruct sequence has to be kicked off, they're doomed to fireball status one way or another. It's just a matter of what else explodes with them.

Re:What a kewl job (1)

HiVizDiver (640486) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362036)

Irrelevant, IMO. I highly doubt the RSO who has to throw that switch goes home to his family that night and sleeps soundly knowing s/he did "a great service". I think you'd have to be a cold-hearted asshole to have it NOT affect you in some significant way. That aspect of it certainly doesn't lend itself to being a "kewl job" as the original posted indicated, sitting on your ass collecting "bennies", when there is a very real possibility that the shit could hit the fan and it comes down to you making the split-second decision to end 7 lives (and ruin 7 families) instead of hundreds of lives and families. Sounds like a lose/lose, to me.

As if this is new.. (3, Informative)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 6 years ago | (#23360790)

Its funny this is "news" - they've had that switch since day one, if I know the military. And the no-fly zone has probably be a registered flightplan with the FAA since a year before day one. Interesting, yes, but not news since at least 1978 (or whenever it was they were building the fleet). I knew a guy who worked on the software on the early fleet. Made me wonder about the whole thing.

What's the point? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23360838)

The shuttles seem to have an easy enough time breaking themselves to pieces, both on launch and on final approach to Earth, the money could have been put to better use on...say...making the current shuttle more safe? I'm sure the astronauts going up there are even more comfortable now knowing that the only rescue plan available in case of equipment failure is a switch in a NASA office that blows up the shuttle they're in.

Ya, Right..... (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361004)

I have seen the movies and that is not a distruct switch panel. Where are the blinking lights, where is the count down timer, where is the second key lock, where is the music...

More then one (2, Interesting)

NewToNix (668737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361014)

Range Safety Officer per launch might be a good idea --like the idea behind one blank round in a firing squad, only in this case one live destruct, and some not active, but no one knows which are which.

Two reasons for this come to mind, 1) The obvious not having to 'know' you were the only one who flipped the kill switch on people, and, 2) the effect of thinking it's only a one in some number chance it's really you flipping the kill switch means a faster response time (less emotional hesitation to interfere).

For all I know they do this already... it seems like a reasonable idea to me anyway.

Other abort modes! (5, Informative)

pumpkinpuss (1276420) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361088)

In addition to the destruct switch, there are other flight plans for an intact abort in case of problems. These abort modes are: Return to Landing Site (after SRBs are jettisoned, shuttle returns to Kennedy Space Center); East Coast Abort Landing where the orbiter lands on a different runway somewhere up the East Coast of the US; Transoceanic Abort Landing where the orbiter lands somewhere in Europe or Africa; Abort to Orbit; and Abort Once Around.

The Solid Rocket Boosters can't be stopped once they are started, but they have their own navigation system (rate gyro assemblies, and inertial measurement units) that are considered as/more reliable as those on the orbiter due to the rigidity of the SRBs. So the reason this "self destruct" button exists is because there is no "off" button for the SRBs, but, as far as I know, it is only an issue if its quad-redundant navigation system fails and somehow its thrust gets stuck in an unsafe vector, and that is very unlikely.

More detail, including why you can't jettison the flight deck with all the crewmembers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_abort_modes [wikipedia.org]

Red Lines (1)

DJTodd242 (560481) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361184)

Taking a peek at the red line diagram that shows where the shuttle cannot fly on lift off, am I the only one noticing the big fark-you to Newfoundland?

Re:Red Lines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23361306)

It's not that big a fuck you - note the dashed line that is to the south and east of the island and its description in the map legend.

Normal overflight of some populated areas is necessary to achieve common mission orbits; abnormalities are grounds for destruct. The solid red lines are boundaries which are grounds for destruct even if the shuttle is otherwise operating entirely correctly.

Research of pictures confirms assumptions. (1)

Fuzzums (250400) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361284)

Yes. It's a switch (four actually).
One of them is even marked "KABOOOM".

BZ Popular Mechanics... (1)

jpellino (202698) | more than 6 years ago | (#23361690)

...for covering this story that broke in 1980.

Technical details (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23361812)

For the technical details on how this works, check out an old Risks article here [ncl.ac.uk] . They put a lot of thought into the system.

Maybe this (1)

ironicsky (569792) | more than 6 years ago | (#23362020)

May it's just me but instead of killing the astronauts why don't they just disconnect the shuttle from the rocket boosters, wait for the shuttle to get far enough away from the rockets either by the shuttle engaging its propulsion systems or by gravity, then blow up the tanks. By this the crew can either fly the shuttle back to the runway or jump using the provided gear.
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