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Sonic Skydive's Real Aim Is To Help Astronauts Survive

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the recoup-the-training-costs-at-least dept.

NASA 140

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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Project Excelsior (4, Informative)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Project Excelsior (1, Informative)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906638)

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 ago, that knowledge lets them push forward with more confidence than they would otherwise have but it doesn't really help them solve problems when they come up.

Re:Project Excelsior (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Project Excelsior (4, Funny)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906832)

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

Re:Project Excelsior (5, Funny)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907250)

Yeah, they just make the other person believe what they already said more anyway.

Re:Project Excelsior (1)

blai (1380673) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907070)

Please RTFA.

Fixed that for you [slashdot.org]

Re:Project Excelsior (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32908850)

The advantage now is that you can do a hell of a lot more with data gathering and telemetry. You can have a lot more sensors and a greater variety, record the plots to a much much finer resolution, and still have a package that's very reasonable in regards to being man-portable and going along for the ride. Now you can do some things they'd have loved to have done back in the 1960s, but lacked the technology for. Univac and a room full of tapes wouldn't have fit in a pocket back then, let alone on a balloon. Now you can have the equivalent processing power of thousands of them in a nice inexpensive consumer-grade PDA.

The fact that it's been done before in practice and with the input of experienced old-timers is an added bonus.(And may help with some margin of safety.) Yet now there's still opportunity to possibly learn something new which would have simply been impossible to document in the past. More data is always good in regards to this type of research.

Video of Kittinger Jumping (4, Informative)

catchblue22 (1004569) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906662)

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.

Re:Video of Kittinger Jumping (1)

zr-rifle (677585) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906766)

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.

Re:Video of Kittinger Jumping (1)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907570)

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.

Re:Video of Kittinger Jumping (3, Informative)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#32909494)

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.

Re:Project Excelsior (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906898)

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.

Two Separate Problems (4, Informative)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907184)

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:Two Separate Problems (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907390)

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 to deorbit. If the aerobraking is unguided then you will pull serious gees, but not enough to be fatal.

I don't think the parachute system is much of an issue. You are gong to be down to terminal velocity close to the ground anyway. Just fire the chute at 10km altitude.

Re:Two Separate Problems (1)

Burger-Eater (1856162) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907486)

10km? That would be like a 1 hour parachute ride down. He can easily pull at normal altitude, prolly around 5000ft to be safe.

Re:Two Separate Problems (4, Informative)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908664)

Kittinger used a multiple-stage parachute. He did most of the descent in 4 and a half minutes, with a drogue which kept him from tumbling. At 17K he opened his main chute and took 13 more minutes to descend.

Re:Two Separate Problems (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907536)

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.

Re:Two Separate Problems (3, Insightful)

joh (27088) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Two Separate Problems (2, Interesting)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907962)

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 may be citing a different sort of project.

Re:Two Separate Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32908542)

Streamer. Model rocket enthusiasts use them to create drag and they are light weight.

Re:Two Separate Problems (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908926)

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 the thin atmosphere at 300 km altitude and drop your orbital altitude in a day or two.

Re:Two Separate Problems (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908448)

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 damage too great for repairs and no possibility of rescue within the time the capsule or whatever can remain in orbit. I seem to remember a case of a Russian astronaut being (temporarily) stranded in space after a malfunction, with NASA being incapable of offering help due to the time it would take to launch a rescue. The ability to descend safely would only require that the vehicle decelerate sufficiently. Even if that meant dropping like a stone immediately after, so long as the astronaut could get out in time, that would be no big deal.

Re:Two Separate Problems (2, Interesting)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908872)

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:Two Separate Problems (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32909580)

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.

Seeing the Excelsior Equipment (1)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907252)

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.

smoke em! (1)

p51d007 (656414) | more than 4 years ago | (#32909146)

What's even more interesting is that if you watch the video when they finally get to Joe, he's sittin' on the ground smoking a cigarette LOL. Sounds funny today, but was common back then.

Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (-1, Troll)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906384)

(including Jonathan Clark, the husband of an astronaut who died in the Columbia disaster)

So wait. Was this 'Jonathan Clark' a woman? Or was the 'astronaut' gay? Is this a weird typo?

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32906416)

(including Jonathan Clark, the husband of an astronaut who died in the Columbia disaster)

So wait. Was this 'Jonathan Clark' a woman? Or was the 'astronaut' gay? Is this a weird typo?

Jonathan Clark is the husband of a female astronaut.

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906564)

Darn, I was hoping he was gay. He was just poured into that shirt!

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906418)

Crap. The astronaut was a woman. I am such and accidental sexist.. :(

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32906420)

Are you dense? The astronaut was obviously a woman.

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32906422)

Perhaps the astronaut was a woman.

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32906434)

No, Jonathan Clark was the husband of Laurel Clark (the Mission Specialist who died aboard Columbia.

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (4, Informative)

Colonel Sponsz (768423) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906440)

(including Jonathan Clark, the husband of an astronaut who died in the Columbia disaster)

So wait. Was this 'Jonathan Clark' a woman? Or was the 'astronaut' gay? Is this a weird typo?

Are you for real? You do know that women can be astronauts too, right?
The crew of STS-107 [wikipedia.org] consisted of 5 men and 2 women. One of those was Laurel Clark [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (1)

RajivSLK (398494) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906812)

No, s/he (or it from now on) just can't read very well. It thought that astronaut's name was 'Jonathan Clark'. Rather than Jonathan being the husbands name. And with Jonathan being a transitionally male name it's was confused and posted above...

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (1)

ooshna (1654125) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907372)

You mean traditionally right? Sorry man I usually don't grammar-nazi on things.

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (2, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908098)

That's right. They need people to cook and clean in space to~

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32906470)

Troll?

There are female astronauts. Jonathan Clark was the husband of a woman named Laurel Clark. Laurel Clark was an astronaut.

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (1)

Gandhi of War (1741426) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906494)

Check it out. [wikipedia.org]

That is all.

Re:Mrs. Jonathan Clark? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32906600)

Uh...no...

He would be the husband of Cmdr. Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist on board Columbia. Cmdr. Clark was a woman.

unclear how mangled astronauts were in accidents (2, Informative)

peter303 (12292) | more than 4 years ago | (#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? (4, Informative)

VTI9600 (1143169) | more than 4 years ago | (#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? (3, Interesting)

VTI9600 (1143169) | more than 4 years ago | (#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? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32906956)

So...how far up do you have to be before you're no longer in the country?

Re:Red Bull, anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32907350)

all the way.

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

Burger-Eater (1856162) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Red Bull, anyone? (1)

VTI9600 (1143169) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908080)

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 hope this stuff works" before jumping out. Not exactly an Oscar-caliber performance, but still better showmanship than the rest.

Re:Red Bull, anyone? (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908352)

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, so they certainly have some kind of obligation to try to do so.

Re:Red Bull, anyone? (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#32909526)

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

SEX WITH A CUM (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32906640)

been the best, lleson and the reaper BSD's Too many rules and

cool (1)

chichilalescu (1647065) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906686)

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).

Re:cool (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906798)

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.

Re:cool (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906900)

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:cool (2, Informative)

abigor (540274) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907120)

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:cool (2, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907436)

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 (3, Insightful)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#32909546)

Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler

I guess Sherpas don't count?

Not quite... (4, Informative)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not quite... (1)

Haffner (1349071) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906830)

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.

Re:Not quite... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906938)

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... (4, Informative)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908602)

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.

Huh (1)

spineboy (22918) | more than 4 years ago | (#32909246)

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 that people can withstand for minutes at a time. People often withstand much more instantaneously

Re:Not quite... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906844)

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.

Re:Not quite... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907114)

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... (3, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Not quite... (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907190)

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 high and will still be going too fast. (In terms of that perennial Slashdot favorite the automobile analogy: this is like equipping a car with airbags - that only function when the car is going 100MPH or faster.)
 
By the time you've built the complex parachute system required to slow down enough to safely exit that capsule at 100,000 feet, you haven't saved any weight or volume over the lighter and simpler (because you can design the capsule to slow down via drag, taking away work from the parachute system.) system to slow down the capsule enough to exit at 30,000 feet, in fact it will be heavier and bulkier. (Look at all the fancy tricks NASA has to employ for landing on Mars - a much simpler task than getting out at 100,000 feet.) All you need to add to get from 100,000 to 30,000 feet, once you've got a capsule that can descend to 100,000 feet, is a few ounces of compressed O2 for the few extra minutes the astronaut will be breathing in the capsule - O2 he'll need in his suit anyway if he's parachuting independently.
 
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.

Re:Not quite... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907332)

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 full-size capsule. And in that case, once you've inflated your heat-shield and it's brought you down to 100,000 feet it's a liability you're safer without.

Re:Not quite... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907896)

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 in that case, once you've inflated your heat-shield and it's brought you down to 100,000 feet it's a liability you're safer without.

Yeah, something that's protected you from heat and air blast is such a liability - you'll abandon it so we can face the heat and air blast without it. Or, IOW, horseshit. At that altitude and speed dropping your existing protection is stupid because you aren't done re-entering. Again, the size, weight, and complexity of a parachute system that will slow you down sufficiently that it isn't a stupid idea to get out at 100,000 feet is far greater than a system that will let you get out at 30,000 feet.

Re:Not quite... (3, Interesting)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not quite... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908776)

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 even a few hundred kilograms for survival equipment that's unlikely to ever be used.

Re:Not quite... (0, Troll)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908552)

This problem is a solution for parachuting from the ISS. If there was some problem and no one could get up there and they had massive system failures, how do they get down? If you had a shuttle launch where tiles were damaged and there wasn't a standby shuttle able to get them and the repairs couldn't be done in space, what do you do with the people? In short, if it works at 100,000 feet, it may work at higher altitudes. And if not, 100,000 feet has plenty in common with the ISS orbit such that it shouldn't be hard to extrapolate. Then, the emergency equipment is a parachute, the suit, and retrorockets. Quicker and cheaper than a rescue launch, and depending on the problem encountered, possibly safer.

Re:Not quite... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907468)

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.

Re:Not quite... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907546)

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.

Re:Not quite... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907682)

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.

Re:Not quite... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908124)

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 full shuttle crew.

Re:Not quite... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908166)

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 apollo sized capsules I still doubt that there would be room for the type of escape system you describe. You still need RCS and guidance because heat shields do not always orient themselves when they enter the atmosphere. If you are tumbling on re-entry you might wind up in a stable attitude pointing the wrong way.

My focus is really on escape from a space platform (like ISS). For me this is the only place where an additional vehicle will help you at all.

Re:Not quite... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908454)

My focus is really on escape from a space platform (like ISS). For me this is the only place where an additional vehicle will help you at all.

What a great idea! [wikipedia.org]

Re:Not quite... (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906914)

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)

Re:Not quite... (3, Funny)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907200)

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

That's why they jump backwards.

Re:Not quite... (2, Interesting)

suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907916)

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 thrusters of some kind and enough computers to make sure you're pointed in directly the right way to cancel out your existing momentum without adding new vectors. Since you probably can't fit that all on a suit of any kind, you are now looking at a capsule, and if you are looking at a capsule, there aren't a whole lot of good reasons not to simply have a normal re-entry capsule, which instead of wasting space on tons of reaction mass or fuel, simply has room for the people, radio, shielding, parachutes, etc.

And weight is ALWAYS a big issue. It has always been. More weight means more fuel use on the launchpad, plus more fuel for EVERY maneuver you do, and extra fuel itself means more weight. More fuel needed than what your rocket can handle means either a second launch or a bigger class of rocket, or you scrap the project.

So I'm pretty sure that you can't get from orbital to stationary jumps feasibly. And if you want to reenter at orbital speeds... well... again we come back to how much propellant you'd need to slow down to a stop, or even to a controllable 60-100mph; you have to absorb that same amount of energy with whatever suit or capsule you put the dude in. And you have to worry about other things, like trajectory. I bet you're a lot more likely to skip off the atmosphere at those speeds in a suit than in a heavy object like a space shuttle.

Re:Not quite... (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908374)

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.

Hype? (1)

dorpus (636554) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906796)

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"?

balls? (1)

Logarhythmic (1082321) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906846)

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

:%s/balls/funding

FTFY

Sure, ruin one of my favorite songs. (1)

Maintenance Goof (1487053) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906872)

The phrase "I'm coming home!" may some day be a phrase that Major Tom may be able to support.

Orbit Diving?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32906906)

Just imagine doing this from the Virgin Galactic. You ride there and then you float out and "orbit dive" home. Obviously you would be in a separated compartment so when they open the doors you don't vent the rest of the craft.

Doing what NASA won't - don't make me laugh (4, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32906950)

"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.

Re:Doing what NASA won't - don't make me laugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32907206)

I believe the point here is to eventually get to LEO for a jump and test the applicable gear and constraints to make it survivable for manned space flight.

Ever hear the term stepping stone? This is merely replicating stuff done 50 years ago (Project Excelsior) and advancing on it a little at a time. If you haven't been paying attention, advancing technology beyond what the Corp's and Gov's are willing to pony up for, takes individuals and teams to step up to the plate, free-lance and privately funded.

How you can bad mouth human ingenuity and achievement, on this website of all places, is beyond me!

Re:Doing what NASA won't - don't make me laugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32907456)

Here, let me put the key phrase in bold for you, because the parent is not badmouthing human ingenuity and achievement, like you suggest. The parent actually responding to the quote, which is cited.

In short, with regards to space safety, this is pretty much a meaningless stunt...

Reading comprehension FTW!

Re:Doing what NASA won't - don't make me laugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32907722)

No, he won't be riding in capsule. The astronaut uses an inflatable heat shield that he merely hides behind. After slowing under a certain speed, the astronaut deploys his chute and the shield falls away.

NASA has already investigated this but it never got past the thought experiment stage.
http://www.astronautix.com/craft/moose.htm

Re:Doing what NASA won't - don't make me laugh (1)

iammani (1392285) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908126)

But, what if the small capsule rips open :P

Re:Doing what NASA won't - don't make me laugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32908844)

Spacetravel has always been about these "meaningless stunts" - we put a man on the moon not for any real advance, but for the sheer wonder of it.

Ground Breaking work! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32907374)

That jumper better hope not....

Austria, not Switzerland! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32907554)

Why the hell is it tagged with 'switzerland'? >:-(

Funny... (1)

BillX (307153) | more than 4 years ago | (#32907794)

"...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.

Wait is this even possible? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32907966)

Isn't there a terminal velocity at which the human body will no longer accelerate? How could he possibly break the sound barrier? Is it because the air is thinner in the upper atmosphere?

Re:Wait is this even possible? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32908224)

Terminal velocity depends on atmospheric density and the aerodynamics of the falling body. Someone jumping at 100,000 feet will accelerate to very high velocity quickly but will decelerate as they encounter thicker and thicker air. If their parachute fails to open they would hit the ground at the same speed as if they fell from a normal 5,000 foot skydive.

Re:Wait is this even possible? (1)

phrostie (121428) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908228)

it varies with air density.

the higher the altitude, the higher the velocity.

but yeah

F-100 (1)

phrostie (121428) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908152)

"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.htm [ejectionsite.com]

Not the greatest choice of words (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32908350)

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

Only if the parachute fails...

This is the definition of progress. (1)

jhfry (829244) | more than 4 years ago | (#32908868)

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 that risk avoidance is what has brought so many exciting government, and private sector, programs to a slow crawl.

It wouldn't be difficult to find someone willing to travel to Mars on a low budget/high risk mission. Sure they may not come home, but they would go anyway. I'd bet you could find someone to take a one way flight to the outer solar system, just for the sake of exploration. A few hundred years ago, humanity had great respect for explorers and scientists who were willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of progress. How many discoveries were made when men and women risked, and often lost, their lives exploring uncharted territory, or trying risky experiments.

I applaud this effort and hope that people start realizing that there are 6 Billion people on this planet, one or two lives for the sake of progress is a small price... and one that would likely be paid willingly just to go down in history as "the first".

Entirely Possible (1)

ozTravman (898206) | more than 4 years ago | (#32909164)

It is completely impractical to compare this with a space shuttle re-entering. The mass difference alone makes it a completely different problem. Also a space shuttle burns tons and tons of rocket fuel in exchange for altitude and velocity. This requires a lot of energy - energy that when it needs to return to Earth the space shuttle needs to get rid off, it does this by converting it to heat. For this project, a balloon is being used to provide the lift. This gives it the potential energy of height, but not the velocity needed to retain orbit. Once you take away the lift- you return to Earth. Coupled with the massive weight difference means there is no where near as much energy that must be converted into heat. A skydiver reaches terminal velocity as a result of their mass and surface area presented to the relative wind. Terminal velocity also depends on air density - altitude and temperature. So a skydiver can go faster by increasing their mass, reducing the cross-sectional area presented to the relative wind or jump from higher altitudes (or on warmer days). In fact even from an altitude of 13,000ft a skydiver will reach terminal velocity after 1000ft and then gradually slow down as the air density increases. Felix will be seeing this on a much grander scale - less air, higher terminal velocity but less friction. Also the speed of sound is slower at higher altitudes because the air is thinner. Some sources actually credit Joseph Kittinger with breaking the speed of sound at his altitude. There are various problems that must be solved for this to succeed, but I think its entirely possible and I am looking forward to seeing him pull it off.
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