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NASA's Rollercoaster For Moon Rocket Escape

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the funnest-ride-you-never-want-to-take dept.

128

simonbp writes "NASA's Constellation Project has approved the Rollercoaster Escape System to be used as the Emergency Egress Systems (EES) for astronauts and pad crew to race away from the Ares I pad, should an emergency be called. The Ares I is the first of NASA's new moon/Mars rockets and is scheduled for a first manned flight in 2014." From the article: "An unpowered fixed single-rail system from the access arm level of the ML tower to the existing bunker would be used. The railcars could be enclosed to provide personnel protection. Each railcar can hold four to six people. The rail would follow the ML tower vertically down to the pad surface, then turn and continue close to the ground to the safety bunker. A passive magnetic and friction braking system will decelerate the cars at the tracks end as well as prevent the cars from hitting each other."

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128 comments

WTF? (-1, Redundant)

FractalZone (950570) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722369)

is this all about?

Re:WTF? (1)

Grave (8234) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722385)

*phew*

Good thing you didn't read the article, or you might have missed the first post opportunity!

Re:WTF? (1)

FractalZone (950570) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722423)

I declined it as a First Post. (Did thatyesterday. :-) I was (and am) genuinely curious as to what all the babble boils down to.

Re:WTF? (1)

Salvance (1014001) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722449)

In essence, NASA wants to build a roller coaster up to the crew module of the next manned Mars/Moon launcher. If there was a problem (e.g. looked like the whole thing was going to blow), they could press a button and the crew would be whisked away down the roller coaster ... propelled to high speeds by technology similar to the new linear accelerator roller coasters at amusement parks.

I'd rather see NASA spend more money on developing safer vehicles, or on robotic missions, than on bizarre contraptions like this. Heck, they might as well build a loop-d-loop at the bottom so tourists can pay to ride it.

Re:WTF? (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722579)

Heck, they might as well build a loop-d-loop at the bottom so tourists can pay to ride it.

My idea for an escape system in very tall (WTC) buildings is to construct vertical drop tubes inside the buildings. At the bottom it would depart the vertical and follow a parabolic curve for a couple of hundred metres to bleed off speed.

In normal operation users would pay for the jump and would wear protective clothing. In emergency operation water would spray into the tube to reduce frictional heating when you hit the sides. A simple traffic control system would try to prevent collisions with people who enter the tube part of the way down.

Re:WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16722753)

"A simple traffic control system would try to prevent collisions with people who enter the tube part of the way down."

Oh super simple! And if you hesitate to jump into a tube that shoots straight down for 20 stories you get hit by the guy falling at terminal velocity from 20 stories up.

Re:WTF? (1)

LS (57954) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722959)

anonymous idiot, 5 seconds of thought would have given you a solution. You'd need software about as complicated as elevators currently have. Basically a person would load into a drop chamber, and it would only drop the person into the tube when there was no chance of hitting or being hit by someone. The person would not decide when to drop themselves, duhhhhhhhh

Re:WTF? (1)

The Dobber (576407) | more than 7 years ago | (#16725153)


Of course with the building having been hit by an airliner, an earthquake or perhaps fire, those computer systems and associated hardware will be functioning just dandy. Lets not forget the panicing.

Double duh

Re:WTF? (1)

OakLEE (91103) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723161)

If the tube drops vertically for 1000 feet while in the building, how would the person not essentially be in a free fall and splatter once the tube starts to curve at/near the bottom?

Re:WTF? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723349)

If the tube drops vertically for 1000 feet while in the building, how would the person not essentially be in a free fall and splatter once the tube starts to curve at/near the bottom?

Its a gentle parabolic curve. Initially it might be at a few degrees from vertical so that you stick to one wall, then the curve and the acceleration build up until you are sliding horizontally.

Re:WTF? (1)

binaryspiral (784263) | more than 7 years ago | (#16726549)

One chick in a leather skirt would skid to a halt and plug up the whole works.

Mass casualties in the drop tube.

Next!

Re:WTF? (1)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723771)

Putting vertical tubes inside a building? kind of like lift shafts, which of course fill with burning fumes through which the fire spreads to other floors. i certainly would not want to get into one of these tubes in the middle of a fire. Plus it doesn't help people trapped above the fire at all, which is the main problem that needs solving with one of these escape systems.

Re:WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16724405)

it doesn't help people trapped above the fire at all

Sure it does, assuming the tubes are adaquately insulated.

Re:WTF? (1)

dcmeserve (615081) | more than 7 years ago | (#16725277)

it doesn't help people trapped above the fire at all

Sure it does, assuming the tubes are adaquately insulated.

Of course, then you might as well make sure the stairwells have adequate insulation.

Stairwells would probably have better bandwidth overall, as you don't have to wait for the entire length of the tube to clear before you can go. (You can't just wait for the tube above you to clear, because different people would have different rates of fall, depending on type of clothing etc.) It'd just take one scaredy-cat clinging to the edge when the system is trying to let him drop to bring the whole thing to a screeching halt.

The main problems with the WTC stairways were 1) the inadequate insulation, and 2) they were too narrow. That latter factor meant that the firefighters going up the stairs were actually disrupting traffic severely, ironically costing lives as they prevented more people from escaping.

So building a wider staircase would probably be more effective than any fancy roller-coaster system. The reason such a system would (might) work for a rocket-launcher tower is that you have a small number of people involved, who would be well-trained to use it. Also, it's much more likely that an emergency situation could mean the entire thing exploding at once.

That said, I doubt this rail system will ever be used to successfully get anyone away from a rocket before it explodes. From what we've seen so far, such explosions are already underway before anyone is actually aware of a problem.

Re:WTF? (1)

FractalZone (950570) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722677)

I'd rather see NASA spend more money on developing safer vehicles, or on robotic missions, than on bizarre contraptions like this. Heck, they might as well build a loop-d-loop at the bottom so tourists can pay to ride it.

Personally, so would I. But NASA has public perception to factor in. It just doesn't spin as well to put the "First Robot on [x]" as it does to let a human give a short speech from there. This is not a stricly engineering issue. Marketing matters.

Look Houston! (1)

ari wins (1016630) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722681)

Look Houston, no hands!! In all seriousness, though, astronauts are already complaining about the $350 fee for the picture that is taken on the way down the MT.

In other news... (1)

LM741N (258038) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722379)

The Republican Party has decided to use the same system to safely shuttle away incumbent lawmakers from the Whitehouse.

Re:In other news... (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723541)

The Republican Party has decided to use the same system to safely shuttle away incumbent lawmakers from the Whitehouse.

Riotous! Um, other than that whole "lawmakers work in the senate and the congress" part. It's the C-in-C, a part of the Executive branch, that operates from the White House. But never mind what they're planning... it looks like Nancy Pelosi has already used this system, since her party has managed to completely eject her from view so that she doesn't actually say anything in front of a camera before the election. System works great, apparently!

Re:In other news... (1)

Lost Penguin (636359) | more than 7 years ago | (#16724257)

They will just use this system to evacuate the election results.

Or they can use the new crowd control area defense weapons to ward off the incoming Democrats.

Re:In other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16725509)

Oooga-booga!! Nancy Pelosi - end of civilization - Hulk SMASH!!!

Nancy Pelosi? You must be fucking kidding me! Where have you been fucking living the last six years?

Re:In other news... (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#16726279)

Where have you been fucking living the last six years?

My point is that some of the movers and shakers (or at least, the people who seem to get a disporportionate share of the sound-bite coverage under normal circumsatnces - people like her) are astoundingly absent from the PR circuit right now. She's a popular (understandibly) demon for many people because she's lefter than most, and the dems don't really want to shout LEFTY LEFT LEFTIST! too loud while trying to get normal people elected. So someone's talked her into S-ing-TFU for the last week.

Re:In other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16727107)

Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Nancy Pelosi - is that how the progression works for you, bub?

I've had it up to here with "Republican" McCarthyism (& yeah, THAT'S how the progression works for me).

The people who "normally" get the disproportionate share of sound bite coverage are Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Condi & Tony "Fucking" Snow.

Throw in Denny Hastert, Bill Frist & Tom Delay if you like. The first bunch are still shooting from the lip & fucking up everything in sight, & the second group are trying to stay out of jail (which is where all of both groups belong, IMNSHO, all with their less slick colleagues).

If you "people" (& I use that word loosely) don't lose big next week it will be time for another American Revolution.

Re:In other news... (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#16727461)

You, sir, are REALLY missing the point. I don't care WHAT Nancy Pelosi says, and frankly, the people the you so loathe would probably be much happier if she DID have a lot more to say. The point is that it's the people in her own party that are anxious to stay out of her proximity while trying to get elected. Because they know she's poison. For example, a typical Democrat trying to win a seat in... say, Virginia... doesn't really want to make a big deal out of trumpeting her as the speaker of the house he just can't wait to answer to. Her politics are way off the radar, in much the way that some loopy right-wingers are way, way off the mark.

She's just fine a representative of her local constituents, because she probably is a good fit for that microcosm. But as the person who would set the agenda for legislative activies for all of Congress, she's a little disturbing... a not least to a lot of people in her own party. Which is why she's mysteriously absent from the scene in the days right ahead of a mid-term election. Doesn't that say something to you, too?

If you "people" (& I use that word loosely) don't lose big next week it will be time for another American Revolution.

I see. Because that would mean that the majority of the voters in your country electing legislators didn't like the people you're backing? Is there any chance that the fractured, shrill, it's-all-about-who-we're-against tone of so many Democrat campaigns this year aren't exactly inspiring? There are plenty of losers on both sides of the fence. But your "it's revolution time" sentiment is actually what a lot of your idealogical opponents were feeling after decades of your party dominating congress and experiencing huge inflation, high unemployment, and many other gripes.

Doesn't it strike you as odd that you feel the need to revolt, rather than make a lucid, positive case for what you'd actually do with legislative power? How would you keep taxes down? How would you keep unemployment below 5%, as it is now? How would you talk the Europeans into actually acting on Iran? It doesn't matter what your answers are... what matters is that maybe they'd be something other than "the Republicans are doing it all wrong, and we're gonna have us some hearings!" That's the Pelosi refrain, and that's my point. Much of the Democratic party seems to get that, too. Why don't you?

The people who "normally" get the disproportionate share of sound bite coverage are Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Condi & Tony "Fucking" Snow.

Gee, do you think maybe that's because they are the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense in the middle of armed conflict, the secretary of state, and the president's spokesman (you know, the person who's JOB is to brief journalists every day)?

So, when Clinton was in office, you didn't hear soundbites from him, or Al Gore, or Madeline Albright? No? Like, when she came back triumphantly from North Korea having solved that whole problem? Gee, I seem to remember hearing endless coverage of that at the time. If your thought is that, when you don't like the administration in office, YOU should be able to dictate who does their talking, but when you DO like the administration, they're just fine talking for themselves, then your hypocrisy is quite something. But it's a little academic, because when I turn on CNN, most of the talking head interviews I see, which are very critical of the administration, are all former Clintonites, sound-biting away. Did you refer to him as "George 'Fucking' Stephanopoulis" back in the day? Or Sandy 'Fucking Classified Document Thief' Berger?

Re:In other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16723637)

Only because the Democratic proposal demanded first class seating, air line-style meals, and an in-flight movie...
  all at taxpayer expense.

Obligatory Obscure Game Reference (2, Funny)

StefanJ (88986) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722391)

Be sure to assign lots of Handymen to the exit area. Sounds like this thing will have a maxed out the Nausea Rating.

Re:Obligatory Obscure Game Reference (1)

aluminumcube (542280) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722673)

it is an escape system...

FOR A SPACE SHUTTLE

Compared to what the crew of the shuttle trains for, this escape system is like a trip to an amusement park...

Re:Obligatory Obscure Game Reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16723173)

it is an escape system...
FOR A SPACE SHUTTLE

Actually, the Ares is a rocket ship. Shuttles are finally (rightfully) being mothballed, so you are incorrect sir or madam.

Re:Obligatory Obscure Game Reference (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 7 years ago | (#16724507)

Its a rocket ship, and a piss-poor one.

40 years after the Saturn 5, they're looking at a projected payload capacity for the Aries 5 to LEO of only 10% more. Why not just upgrade the un-mothball and upgrade the Saturn series? No more SRBs with joint segments to fail and engines that, once lit, can't be shut down.

Re:Obligatory Obscure Game Reference (1)

Keebler71 (520908) | more than 7 years ago | (#16725359)

Its a rocket ship, and a piss-poor one. 40 years after the Saturn 5, they're looking at a projected payload capacity for the Aries 5 to LEO of only 10% more.

I am sorry but you are wrong on multiple points.

First, comparing Saturn V to Ares V is comparing apples to oranges. Saturn V was a single-launch vehicle while the Constellation architecture calls for a two-launch solution (sometimes referred to a "1.5x launch" due to the disparity in size between the vehicles). The Ares V has a payload to LEO capability of 130,000 kg and will launch the Earth Departure Stage (EDS) and LSAM. The Ares I will launch the CEV and has a payload to orbit capbility of 25,000 kg. That's 155,000 kg to LEO or more than 30% greater than the Saturn V's capability. (Digression: Many people think we should instead go with an EELV rather than developing a new vehicle. These vehicles were not built to be human rated from the start and have a payload to LEO of only 26,000 kg (Delta IV Heavy) or 20,000kg (Atlas V))

Moreover, by splitting the crew from the cargo versions you get several benefits:

  • You only have to human-rate the Ares I saving significant mass and development and operational recurring costs for the cargo version
  • You can now "fork" the development to minimize the gap in human spaceflight (also probably reducing the overall schedule and budget risk)
  • Improve crew safey and mission assurance by allowing each Ares V to be checked out on orbit prior to launching the crew.

Why not just upgrade the un-mothball and upgrade the Saturn series?

I don't know what you mean by un-mothball but the remaining segments of the Saturn are completely unusable, corroded and currently being used as critter habitats at JSC and Marshall. If you meant "re-engineer" how would that be any less difficult that what NASA is currently doing? Keep in mind that NASA is building Constellation on about 1/3 the budget of the Apollo program and delivering a vehicle that is vastly more capable than Apollo:

  • Crew of 6 to ISS
  • Polar lunar access
  • Significantly longer lunar surface stay
  • Anytime abort from lunar surface
  • Double the crew (4) to the surface
  • Extensible by design for Lunar outpost missions and Mars missions.

No more SRBs with joint segments to fail and engines that, once lit, can't be shut down.

Actually, the reason the Ares I has SRBs is because they are available (now) and safe. They are already human-rated and we understand them probably better than any booster ever created. Developing a new booster would be inherently riskier not to mention would further delay the US's return to human space flight after the last shuttle flight.

Re:Obligatory Obscure Game Reference (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 7 years ago | (#16725553)

The LEO capability of the Saturn 5 was 118,000 kg. The LEO capability of the Aries 5 is, as I state, only 10% more.

Adding the Aries 1 + Aries 5 to get a "total" of 150,000 kg to LEO requires 2 launches, not 1, so your math doesn't work out.

Moreover, by splitting the crew from the cargo versions you get several benefits: * You only have to human-rate the Ares I saving significant mass and development and operational recurring costs for the cargo version * You can now "fork" the development to minimize the gap in human spaceflight (also probably reducing the overall schedule and budget risk) * Improve crew safey and mission assurance by allowing each Ares V to be checked out on orbit prior to launching the crew.

The Saturn 5 wasn't human-rated? The Saturn 5 is going to incur development costs? Its already developed, its old dependable technology, and its relatively cheap.

As for a 2-launch program, use a Saturn 5 and a Saturn 1. Cheaper - already developed, proven tech. Shave at least a decade off the schedule.

As for the budget, remember that the whole space program from the Mercury sub-orbital flights to the moon landing was 25 billion. Each Saturn 5 was about $100 million. Think of it - 5 launch vehicles for the cost of one shuttle mission. Aries is a contractors' pork bone.

Also, nobody intents for any of the escape systems to actually work. They're there for public perception. the astronauts pointed this out themselves. From the "slide down a wire rope" system to the current proposal, these are basically public relations ploys. How many deaths have been prevented by them? Zero.

The space shuttle was a disaster for NASA, sucking money out of every other program. Aries will be more of the same. The 2020 target date for returning to the moon is longer than the whole from-scratch space program, and you can be sure the date is going to slide.

Do it with old tech, old school know-how, and you can be back there in 5 years, with a permanent base in 7, and on to Mars in 10.

Re:Obligatory Obscure Game Reference (2, Insightful)

voidptr (609) | more than 7 years ago | (#16726877)

The Saturn 5 is going to incur development costs? Its already developed, its old dependable technology, and its relatively cheap.

No, it's not already developed. The blueprints and software have been lost, the tooling to build any of it no longer exists, and the original engineers and machinists are dead or well past retirement.

Not to mention several critical systems like the guidance computer used to weigh multiple tons. Modern units today could be built with orders of magnitude more functionality and safety for orders of magnitude less weight, which means either more useful payload or a lighter propulsion system. Even if you had the original Saturn V stack, the avionics took up so much weight and room, you'd have to do years of engineering and requalification to replace them with modern equivilents. You'd completely shift the weight and balance of the original design.

Overall, it'd take more time and effort to make a modern Saturn V stack fly today than to just engineer a completely new stack with modern engineering and the lessons learned from the last 50 years of manned space travel and avionics engineering.

Re:Obligatory Obscure Game Reference (1)

Keebler71 (520908) | more than 7 years ago | (#16726915)

Adding the Aries 1 + Aries 5 to get a "total" of 150,000 kg to LEO requires 2 launches, not 1, so your math doesn't work out.

My math is fine. I was very clear that the Constellation architecture requires two launches. What isn't fair is comparing the Saturn V lift capability to the Ares V. The Saturn V was a complete solution - the Ares V only provides some of the lift. This is a physics driven problem. Physics drives rockets to be long slender cylinders. Existing materials more-or-less limit the maximum height and diamter of these rockets. Modern technology (in the form of materials advances and engine tech) can buy you some efficiency at the same form factor - but not too much and at significant additional cost. Hence another reason to split the lift capability (logically between the human-rated booster and non-rated booster)

The Saturn 5 wasn't human-rated? The Saturn 5 is going to incur development costs? Its already developed, its old dependable technology, and its relatively cheap.

Listen very carefully. THE SATURN V DOESN'T EXIST. You can't simply start making more. The development costs to re-engineer it with todays materials and methods would be on the same order as for Ares. If we wanted to send two-person crews to the moon for a few days at non-polar landing sites, then Saturn, could you build it today, would be fine. But those aren't the objective of the Constellation Program.

As for the budget, remember that the whole space program from the Mercury sub-orbital flights to the moon landing was 25 billion. Each Saturn 5 was about $100 million. Think of it - 5 launch vehicles for the cost of one shuttle mission. Aries is a contractors' pork bone.

That's ridiculous - are you really comparing "then-year" Saturn V costs with the outside current cost of Shuttle?

Also, nobody intents for any of the escape systems to actually work. They're there for public perception. the astronauts pointed this out themselves. From the "slide down a wire rope" system to the current proposal, these are basically public relations ploys.

The systems aren't there to save the crew in every situation. No one expects the crew to get out of the capsule in the middle of a catastrophic explosion and survive. They are there so that the crew has a change of survival in a small set of problems that are indeed feasible and they work very well in those situations. In the case of a catastrophic explosion - the crew will use the LAS and perform a pad abort (the Russians have done exactly this on one occasion [wikipedia.org]. I for one have no problem providing scant funding for these escape systems considering the alternative is to explain why we lost a crew who otherwise would have had time to escape but for whom no escape option was preserved.

The 2020 target date for returning to the moon is longer than the whole from-scratch space program, and you can be sure the date is going to slide.

That is because the Apollo program was a schedule-driven program (and consumed 4% of the Federal Budget) while Constellation is budget-limitted and is just one of many NASA programs, the sum of which amount to a scant 1% of the federal budget. The Constellation Program could be substantially accelerated if the funding was there. You want to complete the program on 1/3rd the budget of Apollo, it is going to take longer than Apollo did.

Do it with old tech, old school know-how, and you can be back there in 5 years, with a permanent base in 7, and on to Mars in 10.

More examples that you just can't satisfy the NASA-haters. Half complain that the vehicle isn't future-tech enough, and the rest say we should just re-build Apollo. NASA is using old tech where appropriate. Much of the architecture is very similar, there is significant re-use of Apollo and Shuttle engine and other system technology (SRB, J-2X, etc). NASA knows that these were not necessarily the best technical decisions - but they were/are the only way we can meet a 2020 deadline within the current budget constraints.

5, 7, 10? That's just Zubrin lunacy. Possibly do-able with unlimitted budget - but thats not the hand we are delt.

Re:Obligatory Obscure Game Reference (1)

Ltar (1010889) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722795)

but it'll only be used if a mechanic can't get there in time. You should have designed your paths better, or he wouldn't have gotten stuck.

Forget paying millions to be a space tourist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16722403)

How much to ride the rollercoaster?

As a further safety measure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16722411)

personnel will need to pass a series of "You must be taller than this sign" tests prior to entering the launchpad area.

Re:As a further safety measure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16722797)

I'm reminded of a trip I took while in middle school to the "Great America" theme park in Vallejo California (before it was called Six Flags or Paramount). The staff took an extraordinarily long time examining and reexamining a young boy against the height level of just such a sign under the anxious gaze of the kid's companions and the whole crowd that had already lined up to ride the coaster. In the end, they finally let the kid on the ride. This decision was greeted with thunderous applause of all the ride goers. It was certainly an uplifting experience to witness that reflected positively on the commitment of theme park to the patron's pursuit of fun. I think the fact that it was too close to call contributed to the crowd's approval. I'm left to wonder what the margin would have to be before the crowd would actually become concerned for the safety of that young boy.

I just wanna be the first to say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16722419)

WHHEEEEEE!!!

Wrong approach? (1)

Salvance (1014001) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722427)

My first reaction was ... Is this a joke? Even the pictures, with a massive roller coaster running up the side of a booster launcher, look rather ridiculous.

But alas, this is real NASA "innovation". It seems that any device that allows the crew to jettison themselves quickly from the new rocket just increases the risks associated with it. How many malfunctions (e.g. explosions after crew entry but before liftoff) have happened in the past where this would be useful?

I view this as being about as useful as an eject seat for a passenger car. But then again, the details for this device are so hazy (and difficult to understand), that maybe I'm just not getting it.

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

n17ikh (750948) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722499)

How many malfunctions (e.g. explosions after crew entry but before liftoff) have happened in the past where this would be useful?

A few. For example, Apollo One [wikipedia.org] was a particularly infamous incident where a ground escape system would have been useful.

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722539)

A few. For example, Apollo One was a particularly infamous incident where a ground escape system would have been useful.

If the crew had got to the white room they would have been ok. Unless the booster goes you are safer in the capsule. If the booster goes you won't have time to get away.

There may be a class of disasters which this system can deal with but I think that class is pretty small.

Re:Wrong approach? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16722549)

A door which opened outwards on explosive bolts would have been far more useful on Apollo 1. Having this roller coaster wouldn't have done much if they still couldn't get the door open quickly.

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

iSeal (854481) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722561)

A few. For example, Apollo One was a particularly infamous incident where a ground escape system would have been useful. Perhaps better would have been a door the astronaut crew could have opened to get out of the burning capsule in the first place.

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722615)

Ok, I'm gonna do something totally crazy before replying; I'll RTFA.

Yeah, it looks stupid.

Anyhoo, in the case of Apollo One (which I also read via your link), there were many technical problems that shouldn't have occured. Pressurize, pure O2 atmosphere? Door that opens inward (thus helped sealed by the pressure)? Lots of stuff made of flammable material?

Yes, they could have used a better ground escape mechanism but even if they had that roller coaster at the time, they'd still have died from smoke inhalation. They still would have been required to remove the bolts from the door and force it open (a hard thing to do in a pressurized enviroment made worse from a rapidily burning fire).

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

adinb (897001) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722657)

Being from Central FL, I had a chance to talk to one of the workers who closed the hatch on the Apollo 1. In his words, the fire flashed so fast that no escape system would have helped the astronauts. And the fire was hot enough that it actually melted quite a bit of the metal on the hatch when they initially tried to open up the Apollo 1.

The rollercoaster is a nice thought, but I really see very few situations where it'll have any chance to help avoid loss of life. This sounds like a contractor ploy to keep people employed.

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

foo12 (585116) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722547)

I don't think it's to eject directly out of the capsule. Rather it's to quickly egress off the tower if all hell breaks loose.

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

Legatic (318255) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722633)

Even if this is the wrong approach to this individual issue I think we can all agree that a new launch and delivery system was badly needed.

The space shuttle was amazing, and served as a good workhorse, but I'm excited to see how Ares can carry us forward.

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722817)

How many malfunctions (e.g. explosions after crew entry but before liftoff) have happened in the past where this would be useful?

The Soyuz T-10-1 rocket blew up on the launch pad, they used the built in ejection system to launch the capsule to safety.

Seems to me that such an ejection system is safer (ie: you stay in the well protected capsule) and pretty much makes a roller coaster redundant, the later would only be of use if the crew is on the tower but not in the capsule yet. And I'm not aware of any accidents during which that has happened, I mean how long are they even in such a position?

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723209)

Seems to me that such an ejection system is safer (ie: you stay in the well protected capsule) and pretty much makes a roller coaster redundant, the later would only be of use if the crew is on the tower but not in the capsule yet.

Simply using the LES (Launch Escape System) is not a complete solution - because during test countdowns the full air-sea rescue teams are not deployed (and the white room is still in place), but there is still a possibility of an accident requiring the astronauts to evacuate.
 
Even during a real countdown - riding the LES isn't always the best option. The white room may still be in place blocking the capsule from departing. If the white room is still in place - there may be personnel there who need evacuation, and *they* can't ride the LES. The incident may be threatening enough to require crew evacation - but not threatening enough to destroy the vehicle. (Firing the LES is pretty much an irrevocable step.)

Apollo solution... (2, Informative)

Hamster Lover (558288) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722867)

I couldn't tell you if this system was developed before or after the Apollo 1 fire, but there was a launch tower escape system that consisted of a guy wire to the ground. In an emergency the crew would evac to a tower platform and into a harness, down the guy wire and into a block house. While not as sexy a high tech roller coaster, thanks to its simplicity probably more reliable. Why make things more complex than they need to be? I tried to find some information on the web but came up empty handed.

This system is not to be confused with the Launch Escape System that sat atop the capsule, which was a couple of small rockets intended to pull the capsule away from the main rocket assembly either on the pad or in flight if there was a catastrophic failure.

Re:Apollo solution... (1)

jollyplex (865406) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723191)

The LES is now called the Launch Abort System (LAS). *shrug* Perhaps the coaster is a faster way to move the entire crew away from the Stick? Keep in mind Orion seats four to six astronauts.

Re:Apollo solution... (1)

ironcanuk (1022683) | more than 7 years ago | (#16724165)

I don't think that it was a harness. I recall seeing clips of them practicing, and it looked like a rectangular basket that they sat in as the went down the wire.

You're right, not a harness (1)

Hamster Lover (558288) | more than 7 years ago | (#16724855)

You're right it was a basket of some sort. Oops. I recall that it was also featured in a Six Million Dollar Man episode when agents attempted to sabotage a Saturn rocket and they had to evacuate.

Re:Apollo solution... (2, Informative)

Keebler71 (520908) | more than 7 years ago | (#16725419)

The system you describe is still in use for the shuttle. The problem is that the launch tower for Ares I will be at almost double the height and the crew escape level will be so high that a simliar guy-wire solution would deliver the crew outside the radius of where the bunker is. NASA will need to either move the bunker radially outward, or come up with an alternative escape system. (This is a proposal for the latter).

Re:Wrong approach? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16723389)

I can't count the number of times I've wished I had an eject seat in my car. Basically every time my wife opens her mouth.

Re:Wrong approach? (1)

Traf-O-Data-Hater (858971) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723875)

I had the same thought exactly - is this some sort of joke?
Why take the crew vertically down the side of the rocket, closer to the out-of-control conflagration before sending the carriage outwards from the pad?
How many seconds would be wasted getting into the carriage and strapping in?
What if one of the crew were injured and could not make it out the cabin as quickly - would the others hold the carriage until that person was out (thus endangering themselves more than necessary) instead of each crewmember individually performing their escape down a wire, taking them as fast as possible away from the pad,?
Alternately, what's wrong with the tried-and-tested solid rocket escape tower as others have mentioned?
Surely it is a joke.

hello? didn't you see Contact (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16727679)

Imagine if we have some terrorist, albino, nut-job that wants to blow things up. This is would've saved everyone in "Contact" for sure!

Safer in or out? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722443)

To use the escape system you have to egress from the spacecraft and enter the "rollercoaster". To me this seems like the ideal time for the final explosion which might have actually left the crew alive had they been in a capsule, which after all, is suposed to protect the crew in a hostile environment.

So I can see the crews weighing the risk of staying aginst the risk of trying to get away and deciding to stay.

Re:Safer in or out? (2, Informative)

cyclone96 (129449) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722813)

I think some of the comments are missing a critical point here...

Not all emergencies requiring rapid pad evacuation necessarily involve just the crew in a capsule on a fueled booster ready to go. During the final count, the normal method of escape is going to be to fire the escape tower and pull the whole capsule off the booster.

However, before the crew is strapped in and the access arm is retracted there is the possibility of an emergency arising where they (and the closeout crew) need to leave in a hurry. In fact, that possibility is there days and days before launch for the the folks that work out on the pad. That's what this system is designed for.

I have been out on the shuttle pads when routine pre-flight work was being done, about 2 weeks before launch. Before I was given access to those areas, I had to be trained in escaping from the pad if an emergency like a fire or chemical leak arose (not a simple matter, the pad itself has hatches and a labyrinth of internal passages not unlike a ship). One part of that training was learning how to operate the slide wire baskets to rapidly get from the the access arm level to the ground. As I recall, you follow the big yellow arrows, get in facing backwards, pull the release handle, and pray.....

At that time the crew was about 1000 miles away from the pad, but the baskets were there to protect the pad workers in what is essentially a hazardous industrial area not unlike an oil refinery.

Dear Echelon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16722493)

Another mastodon overwhelmingly learns a hard lesson from the Muslim terror plot inside a vacuum cleaner, because an Iran nuclear material secret financial aid to dirty bomb London. When you see a secret prison, it means that the Jihad. Sometimes a fat grizzly bear mosque, but ammonium nitrate always gives a pink slip to some dirt-encrusted biological weapons! Sometimes a customer living with pig's daydream about blow up landmark, but an avocado pit always overwhelmingly can be kill infidels to a frustrating short order. When you see the plane hijack, it means that the infidels die. When you see a burglar suicide bomb, it means that a tripod spits out Botulism. Fake identity documents pass on terror manual.

Must be this tall to ride. (1)

cjanota (936004) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722567)

/ Slidetude System: / 'A fixed slide tube made of either metal or hard plastic/fiberglass will extend from the access arm level of the ML tower or FSS / to the existing bunker located on the west side of the pad. / 'The egress route will be across the access arm to the slide tube, down the slide tube to the bunker, and into the bunker. Each / person would enter the tube one at a time from the crew access level on the tower and slide the distance to the bunker.' The first thing that came to mind when I read this was that they could purchase the sections from McDonalds for the slide. It would have to end in a ball-pit in the bunker though.

Re:Must be this tall to ride. (1)

cjanota (936004) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722587)

Hmm formating problem. Sorry for double post.
Slidetude System:
'A fixed slide tube made of either metal or hard plastic/fiberglass will extend from the access arm level of the ML tower or FSS
to the existing bunker located on the west side of the pad.
'The egress route will be across the access arm to the slide tube, down the slide tube to the bunker, and into the bunker. Each
person would enter the tube one at a time from the crew access level on the tower and slide the distance to the bunker.'

The first thing that came to mind when I read this was that they could purchase the sections from McDonalds for the slide. It would have to end in a ball-pit in the bunker though.

The future is dull. (1)

lemur3 (997863) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722603)

Just imagine how crazy this would look to someone from 1950.. "Oh yes! we went to the Moon 40 years ago... this rocket is on its way to Mars.. Now, look to your left and you'll see our amazing new state of the art roller coaster escape system"

Come on NASA you can do better than this.. it is nearly 2010 !

scary (1)

WisC (963341) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722619)

With a headline worded like that, I sincerely hope for the astronauts' sake that Zonk is not writing the manual for this rollercoaster.

I dont think so... (1)

LuNa7ic (991615) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722805)

Looking at those pictures - I'll take my chances with the rocket thank you very much.

What's the point of this? (1)

zsazsa (141679) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722841)

So, what's the point? The current shuttle seems to have a rather serviceable, *simple* cable-based basket escape system [space.com]. This new one seems way too complicated. For example, the new system: A passive magnetic and friction braking system will decelerate the cars at the tracks end as well as prevent the cars from hitting each other. The old system? The baskets hit a net at the bottom. Keep it simple, stupid.

And like someone mentioned before, the crew would actually have to exit the capsule to use this escape system. Since the Ares system actually has an escape rocket to pull the capsule away from the stack like Mercury, Gemini, Apollo had and the Soyuz has currently, I'd rather take my chances with that.

Of course, any useful background information behind this decision is behind nasaspaceflight.com's L2 pay service, so unfortunately facts on the new system are scant.

Re:What's the point of this? (2, Insightful)

ityllux (853334) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723135)

Passive magnetic = magnets, with like poles repelling each other
Friction braking = hand brakes

They are keeping it simple, stupid.

Not the right approach IMHO (1)

CodeMasterPhilzar (978639) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722931)

Anyone else remember seeing pics of big liquid fueled rockets ah "malfunctioning" on the pad? It is a rather energetic event. Personally, I'd rather have an ejection handle that would fire the explosive bolts holding the capsule to the vehicle, fire the escape rockets (solid fuel and stone-stock reliable), with a simple parachute system. This would keep the personnel safely within the capsule (not out and exposed to all that flame and debris), and no-doubt be much faster than manually exiting the capsule and letting gravity take you for a ride right down past tons of liquid fuel and oxidizer...

I mean, 'cmon... We've been doing ejection seat type systems for what, 40 to 50 years now? These kinds of systems are very, very reliable. Other spacecraft have used similar systems. The F-111 had/has such a system if I remember correctly. The (lack of) speed for manual egress of the capsule and then letting slow gravity draw them right down past the volatile fuels/oxidizers... Not a good plan IMHO. Much better to pull them up and away immediately within a controlled and protected environment.

Re:Not the right approach IMHO (4, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723227)

I mean, 'cmon... We've been doing ejection seat type systems for what, 40 to 50 years now? These kinds of systems are very, very reliable.

Not particularly. It's not unheard to fail to eject, or to have the ejector fire without being commanded to do so.
 
 
Other spacecraft have used similar systems. The F-111 had/has such a system if I remember correctly.

The FB-111 capsule escape system has been used (IIRC) 20-25 times across its history in US service - and one or both of the crew was severely injured each and every time. In the aviation community ejecting from an aircraft is reffered to as "attempting suicide to avoid being killed".

Re:Not the right approach IMHO (3, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723575)

You've also got another scenario: big ol' nasty fuel/oxidizer leak. You could hop in a passive (enclosed) car for a 32 f/s/s-quickening ride out to a bunker, or, you could use the ejection method, and light a big ol' ejection rocket right on top of the giant leaking tower of flammable stuff. I think you'd want both options, so that you can react to a range of hazards. If they need to bug out, they'll usually know why... and they may very well not be in the capsule (yet) when they see they need to. For that matter, the pad workers may have the need hours before the crew even saddles up.

Why? (1)

kahrytan (913147) | more than 7 years ago | (#16722981)

Please, someone tell me why they are building these retro rockets for man mission to Mars?

NASA should be focusing on a new Shuttle capable in carrying a sizable payload to mars. Payload that can be left behind on Mars. I would leave behind a Nuclear Powered Device capable in releasing more C02 into the atmosphere. Those who don't know, releasing additional greenhouses into Mars' atmosphere might stimulate terraforming.

And oh yeah, Roller Coaster idea is a simple, inexpensive and effective way to provide escape for astronauts. And Astronaut won't loose their lunch on it either since they are trained to handle the Gs of a shuttle launching.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16724355)

Uhuh. A new shuttle. Because if you want to go to Mars you really need to take 80 tons of wings, hydraulics, undercarriage and incredibly fragile heat shield with you. I know; let's strip off all the bits you *don't* need to go to mars and add a nice, safe, reliable ablative heatshield, make it into a sensible shape for a ballistic atmospheric entry, and what do you get? Oooh, looks a lot like Apollo...

Re:Why? (1)

kahrytan (913147) | more than 7 years ago | (#16726771)

I said new shuttle nitwit. It would be designed for a mission to Mars. Shuttle actually capable of landing on the surface and like parachuting. Then taking off. Consider it an X-Prize plane with off-road wheels and payload ability.

Apollo-like rocket isn't big enough. NASA should thinking about building habitat on Mars. Why waste that expensive fuel on an opportunity to walk on some dusty surface to collect a few samples. That is a complete waste of money, time, and bone calcium. NASA should bring a small capsule, nuclear reactor, activated CO2 Generator of some sort, and basic supplies for another trip.

  Those who don't know, CO2 would warm up the atmosphere and surface, melt the ice caps, and prepare the planet for life in few hundred or thousand years.

Re:Why? (1)

toddhisattva (127032) | more than 7 years ago | (#16725639)

Anything shaped like the current shuttles is wrong for a Mars trip.

You will be carrying useless wings there and back.

We're going retro because that's what works.

Nuts (1)

augustz (18082) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723263)

This is nuts on so many levels.

The system is insanely complicated for an insanely expensive program to go to MARS! Are you kidding me? They should pull the plug on the entire NASA program, and fund John Carmack and Richard Branson with the money.

The international space station is basically a big ego stroking excercise. For anyone following the actual science being conducted up there over the billions being spent, you'll instantly realize about 100x more space science could be done by others for the same cost. Seriously, someone needs to do a cost / benefit equation on NASA.

Realize that this whole put people on Mars system is the BEST program, the best idea that our BILLIONS of dollars being spent on NASA can come up. It's like they watched an old video of the plans to go to the moon, and unable to come up with any of their own ideas said /s/moon/mars.

The folks actually doing real space work have it right. NASA is the dead end for space for America. While they dream up this BS, they are cutting actual science programs by the bucket load.

Re:Nuts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16723975)

The ESAS architecture for going to the moon is completely incapable of going to mars. It is in fact marginally capable of going to the moon. You will never see a mission duration longer than 14 days with ESAS. True lunar exploration is NOT POSSIBLE with ESAS. You cannot explore a WORLD wth four guys staying for seven days twice a year. It takes stays measured in months with crews in the dozens to even make a dent in the task. If you cannot demonstrate stays of at least 180 days then you have no business even considering Mars exploration. The transit time to mars is that long and stays are in excess of 500 days! ESAS cannot affordably deliver the crews or cargo to the lunar surface that are required for anything more than a puffed-up flags and footprints mission. In this regard it is essentially equivalent in function to the International Space Station. The NASA administrators to come will loathe ESAS as much as Michael Griffin loathes ISS.

It is NOT repeat NOT the best system that can be developed. Not even close. It was chosen for strictly political reasons - many associated with the financial state of ATK (old Thiokol) that make the solid rocket boosters. They fought like mad for the present architecture and one of their business development people is now a deputy director at NASA. Geez what a coincidence! The could see that any modern vehicle design would eliminate large, costly and completely inflexible ( from a mission design standpoint) segmented solid motors. So they fought back with all the political arm twisting they could muster. And won. It was masterful really. A victory of fear ( of loss of jobs at ATK and NASA) and back-room politics over basic engineering.

Many other ideas were put forward that were far cheaper and had superior performance. More importantly they could be applied to the moon and be directly extended to Mars ( and be applied to unmanned probes as well). These ideas were systematically suppressed by Griffin and Horowitz by their insistence that papers presenting these alternatives be removed from space-related conferences. Dozens were pulled at the last moment to protect their hallowed ideas and make it appear that their architecture was clearly superior and had no challengers or alternatives. And make no mistake- these men are vicious and vindictive. They may put on a happy face for the public but their behavior to engineers who have posed serious questions is reprehensible. They see nothing unethical in the deliberate suppresion of engineering or cost data. Recent CBO assessments (delayed by nearly a year) of the EELV-derived alternatives bloated their costs and took NASA at their word (cost wise) and the ESAS was STILL $4B more expensive to do. This was taken by NASA spin doctors as VINDICATION of their ESAS architecture.

What is funny is that major anchors of the ESAS architecture have had to be abandoned as they were found to be unworkable. The four segment SRB, and use of SSME were KEY to ESAS and both are now gone. Replaced by an essentially brand new 5 segment solid and the non-man-rated RS-68 and a brand new "derivative engine" the J2-X. This forces three essentially new engines into the system at huge cost and risk. This shows the half-baked nature of the ESAS architecture- it was done by people who have never done an expendable launch vehicle before and have no real idea of the consequences to sophomoric design. Why should they? They are spending someone else's money!

If you want to see the vehicles that CAN take you to the moon and then Mars check out: http://www.lockheedmartin.com/wms/findPage.do?dsp= fec&ci=17607&rsbci=14917&fti=0&ti=0&sc=400 [lockheedmartin.com]

They can deliver all the mass you want with NO new engines and with a development time that is HALF of what NASA is planning. And at a cost that is less than 20% of the ESAS launcher development cost (when you remove gratuitous CBO bloat factor).

Re:Nuts (1)

augustz (18082) | more than 7 years ago | (#16727211)

Thanks for that post, much more interesting and detailed then what I have seen, but I think matching my general gut feelings about this latest NASA program. It does reek of politics.

Missing Something... (1)

nrlightfoot (607666) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723325)

It seems to be missing any exhilarating features, other than the exploding 8 million pound rocket, which really seems like old hat by today's theme park standards. They should really add in a corkscrew or something.

Slight correction (1)

Jon Abbott (723) | more than 7 years ago | (#16723453)

The title and article text is a bit misleading, as the Ares I will be used for more than just the moon and Mars... The Orion capsule on the Ares I can be configured to carry crew or supplies to the ISS, or do "solo" orbital flights, or mate with the moon/Mars vehicles lifted by the Ares V...

But they're never going to build it (1)

gelfling (6534) | more than 7 years ago | (#16724101)

Everyone knows that Ares 1 is a fake project. We are never going to go back to the Moon or elsewhere this century. Manned spaceflight beyond LEO is essentially dead. Instead we are weaponizing near-space.

Re:But they're never going to build it (1)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 7 years ago | (#16725333)

>> We are never going to go back to the Moon or elsewhere this century.

Yeah the real reason is that Bill Gates doesn't want anyone to find his secret moonbase.

Pathetic (1)

riskyrik (708727) | more than 7 years ago | (#16724645)

This is a scheme for losers. Real men go to Mars like this:
1) Test, build and launch a powerful ion-drive (no 1). Put it in Earth-orbit, let it pick up speed during a few months.
2) Build a second one (no 2), after a few months of speed-gathering around Earth send it unmanned to Mars, let it orbit there. On board it has a rocket engine and some fuel that is to be used later on.
3) Test, build and launch a space-plane with big enough wings to allow horizontal take-off. Prior to launch, be sure to put the crew in it.
4) Dock the space-plane to the orbiting ion-drive no 1, do some manoeuvering and head to Mars. This trip should go fast enough (a few weeks) because by now the ion-drive has picked up considerable speed, however admitting the docking-manoeuver. If needed an on-board rocket can be used to add extra speed. Drop the rocket once enough speed is gained.
5) Upon arriving at Mars some deceleration is needed, therefore perform a docking manoeuver with ion-drive no 2. It's on-board rocket can help the deceleration and assists also in landing the crew on solid bottom on Mars.
6) Plant the US flag and claim the whole planet just to annoy the rest of the world. Should be great fun.. Subsequently grab some dust & rocks to add a bit of scientific credibility.
7) While all this was goin on, another ion-drive no 3 (with or without a rocket & enough fuel) was also sent unmanned to Mars and put in orbit.
8) Let the crew leave Mars, again using the on-board rocket of ion-drive no 2. Just enough fuel to make the hop and dock to no 3 would do the trick.
9) Head to Earth.
10) Using the same procedure as described earlier, let them land on Earth.

This scheme certainly will appeal the public & some investors: it has some modern gizmo's, it is a tale of many exciting chapters & key-moments and it will certainly get the attention of the rest of the world, just like in old times!

Re:Pathetic (1)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 7 years ago | (#16725293)

>> 4) Dock the space-plane to the orbiting ion-drive no 1,

How is the plane gonna catch up with it, given that the ion-drive been in orbit and gathering speed for a few months?

Skyscrapers? (1)

Julian Morrison (5575) | more than 7 years ago | (#16725403)

I've wondered how people might be able to evac very fast from a damaged skyscraper - stairs suck, they're too slow, too prone to blockage, and they crowd up in proportion to building height. So, how about copying this NASA idea and using some system of escape pods and vertical free fall roller coasters?
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