[FPSPACE] minimizing future deaths in space
21 Sep 2000 13:37:01 +0200
Phillip's contribution made me realize another very
close parallel between the past submarine tragedy, & future
potential tragedies on board Mir & ISS.
Assume that the survivors have slammed shut in time the
internal hatches to the catastrophically, or even only
seriously ruptured, modules. But the survivors'
hermetically sealed module or modules have no external
hatches. Rescuers' cannot dock with an airlock structure
directly onto the sealed module. They have to pass through
the ruptured modules - & dare not open the internal hatch to
the sealed module because the survivors' have no spacesuits
in the remaining sealed module/s....
It was for this contingency that the submarine analogy
had R&D'd the new technique of a rescue mini-sub equipped
with some sort of docking mechanism, plus a pressure skirt,
to enable survivors to scramble out of a disabled sub via an
external hatch. Even if the external hatch was slightly
damaged or mechanically distorted.
As mentioned, the external hatch scenario is already
catered for in the space situation, as virtually all docking
mechanisms have an airlock. No space agency has yet
developed a pressure skirt that will overcome failure to
achieve a hard docking, allowing rescue in the event of
only a soft docking, or a non-functioning or damaged
external hatch. In outer space, the pressure differential is
no more than ? 15 metres below the surface, so this should
be achievable. And such a rescue facility kept permanently
in LEO. It could even be tele-operated.
In addition, rescuing survivors through an internal hatch
1) every module of Mir & ISS be equipped with "life jackets"
- minimal spacesuits good for at least 10 or 20 minutes; or
2) the rescuers come with adhesive puncture repair patches,
or some portable, inflatable airlock that can be attached
to the vacuum side of an INTERNAL hatch. This temporary
inflatable airlock, unlike the Leonov antecedent, would have
to be roomy enough to contain minimal spacesuits for trapped
3) Tougher still, any such portable, inflatable &
adhesivable airlock, must in its uninflated shape & size, be
thin enough to be dragged right through the tangle of pipes,
hoses, cables & debris to the surviving sealed internal
4) The technical difficulty of this, where time (CO2
levels) might be of the essence, indicates that budgets for
allocating internal space in each ISS module should include
as much as possible, at least one minimal spacesuit.
It is impossible to prevent all deaths in even
commuter transport, never mind underwater, polar, mountain &
space exploration. But Phillip's warning is spot-on. The
emotional and political impact of say another seven
astronauts, this time slowly dying on prime-time TV, will go
way beyond 70 or 470 passengers killed in a jumbo-jet. Just
as the designers & engineers of messerschmidts, junkers,
stukas, panzers & zeros never attracted a fraction of the
post-war moralizing & opprobrium that von Braun & team
Only anorexic space budgets mean that for the next two
or three decades, the maximum planned crowd in one place in
space could be no more than 16 :
* ISS crew of six,
* docking with shuttle crew of seven, with
* simultaneous docking of a Soyuz TM, three.
When the half century old advocacy of Werner von Braun
& Arthur Clarke for space stations with scores of crew and
scientists and passengers abroad occur, never mind Gerald
O'Neall's cylinders, we will have numbers exceeding the
Kurst's late crew. We will need decentralized, autonomous
life support systems, and more than one "life-jacket" &
lifeboat strategically placed around space stations from the
fully-constructed ISS onwards.