NPF: WE FOUND SOMETHING WORSE THAN SUFFOCATION

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 23rd, 2011 by Ed

Here's a scenario.

You're an astronaut in the early decades of the space program. You're orbiting the Earth alone in a tiny capsule when suddenly you and the folks on the ground realize that some technical problem will prevent you from returning to Earth. Unlike an airplane pilot, you can't simply strap a parachute on your back, eject, and float safely to the ground.

Or can you?

The good folks at General Electric have designed a neat, compact emergency bailout system called MOOSE ("Man Out of Space Easiest") for the astronaut on the go who likes being alive. "But Ed, you can't just jump out of a goddamn spaceship," you say. Well here's how it works.

The astronaut unfolds the compact kit, dons his spacesuit, and exits his wounded capsule. Then, floating untethered in the icy blackness of space, he crawls into a 6' long plastic bag (You know, like a body bag.) Next he zips himself into the plastic bag and activates two cans of condensed polyurethane foam. So he is now floating aimlessly in space in a sealed plastic bag, completely blind and immobilized in hardening foam. Then, via a rocket pack poked through the exterior of the plastic bag (Does burning rocket fuel melt plastic? Nah.) the astronaut decelerates himself enough to begin reentering the atmosphere. He is protected (or "protected") during this process by a heat shield consisting of one-half inch of flexible plastic on one side of the bag in which he is enclosed. Can 1/2" of plastic withstand the 500-3000 degrees Fahrenheit generated by atmospheric reentry?

Sure! Why not! Assuming all of the previous steps went flawlessly, the final stage was a 150,000 foot atmospheric free-fall slowed by a single parachute – you guessed it – poked through the plastic bag.

The MOOSE, detailed in this obscure NASA technical report from 1969, was never sent into space. Perhaps NASA realized that slowly running out of oxygen would be strongly preferred by most astronauts when the alternative was attempting to reenter the Earth's atmosphere in a goddamn trash bag. Were I in that unfortunate position, I'd gladly go the 'phone call from the President, bring my wife to the control room to say goodbye' route before I would attempt something so cockamamie. And likely to end in fiery death.

Don't ask me why I know that this exists.