Astronauts to Ride Rails in Emergency

Oct 04, 2007
Astronauts to Ride Rails in Emergency
An artist's concept of the Ares I launch pad shows the new evacuation system on the right. Astronauts and ground crew could leave the capsule and ride a rail car to a bunker for protection. The path would be marked with yellow and black arrows. Credit: NASA

As NASA revamps Launch Complex 39B to host the new Orion spacecraft and Ares I rocket of the Constellation Program, engineers are preparing to install a new kind of departure system to evacuate astronauts.

The agency calls it the Orion Emergency Egress System, but it is fundamentally a group of multi-passenger cars on a set of rails reminiscent of a roller coaster. Its purpose is to move astronauts and ground crew quickly from the vehicle entry on the launch pad to a protective concrete bunker in case of an emergency.

Similar systems have been built into launch pads since the Saturn rockets and for the space shuttle. Both earlier systems were cables running from the spacecraft’s crew ingress level to an area near a bunker. There has never been an emergency on the pad that required the crew use these systems.

For Orion, the rail car would stand some 380 feet above the ground. It will be at the same height as the hatch on the Orion capsule, which is where the astronaut crews enter the spacecraft before launch.

Kelli Maloney, the lead designer for the launch pad escape system, said a trade study showed the railcar best met NASA's requirements. Those requirements call for astronauts to be able to get out of the spacecraft and into the bunker within 4 minutes.

One of the benefits of the rail system, Maloney said, is that the track can take the astronauts directly to the bunker door. That would be a big help if one of the crew members or a ground crew member was incapacitated.

Scott Colloredo, NASA's senior project integrator for Constellation ground systems, said the group called on the world's roller coaster designers for help with the concept.

"It's obviously not a thrill ride, but we're taking advantage of technology that's there," he said.

Source: by Steven Siceloff, NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center

Explore further: Cassini: Return to Rhea

Related Stories

Micro-5: Gut reactions in space

Feb 24, 2015

Our guts literally teem with beneficial bacteria. But not all bacteria are harmless. Disease-causing bacteria, known as pathogens, can infect our intestines, causing illness or even death. Bacterial pathogens ...

Spacesuit woes haunt NASA ahead of crucial spacewalks

Feb 18, 2015

With three complicated spacewalks planned in the coming days, NASA is rushing to resolve a spacesuit problem linked to a 2013 emergency when water dangerously flooded a European astronaut's helmet.

Virgin Galactic gets back on track toward space tourism

Feb 03, 2015

The only thing interrupting the creosote and mesquite that make up one of New Mexico's most remote stretches of desert is a pristine runway where Virgin Galactic plans one day to launch the world's first ...

Recommended for you

Cassini: Return to Rhea

3 hours ago

After a couple of years in high-inclination orbits that limited its ability to encounter Saturn's moons, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returned to Saturn's equatorial plane in March 2015.

Comet dust—planet Mercury's 'invisible paint'

11 hours ago

A team of scientists has a new explanation for the planet Mercury's dark, barely reflective surface. In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers suggest that a steady dusting of carbon from p ...

It's 'full spin ahead' for NASA soil moisture mapper

13 hours ago

The 20-foot (6-meter) "golden lasso" reflector antenna atop NASA's new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory is now ready to wrangle up high-resolution global soil moisture data, following the successful ...

What drives the solar cycle?

14 hours ago

You can be thankful that we bask in the glow of a relatively placid star. Currently about halfway along its 10 billion year career on the Main Sequence, our sun fuses hydrogen into helium in a battle against ...

MESSENGER completes 4,000th orbit of Mercury

14 hours ago

On March 25, the MESSENGER spacecraft completed its 4,000th orbit of Mercury, and the lowest point in its orbit continues to move closer to the planet than ever before. The orbital phase of the MESSENGER ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.