NPF: WE FOUND SOMETHING WORSE THAN SUFFOCATION

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.

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39 Responses to “NPF: WE FOUND SOMETHING WORSE THAN SUFFOCATION”

  1. Stephen Says:

    I think I'm actually most intrigued by that final question, if you're willing to answer it. Where the **** did you find this?? When you're not doing comedy you spend your time sorting through soon-to-be-defunct government agency's archives?

  2. Radical Scientist Says:

    I'm sure there was at least one disappointed astronaut out there when this thing got canned. Not because they were that desperate to avoid dying, but because if it worked, they'd be the biggest badass ever to fall out of the sky and live to brag about it at cocktail parties.

  3. Jordan Says:

    If you encase yourself in a blind ball of foam, how the fuck do you steer the thing towards earth?

  4. Halloween Jack Says:

    William Motherfucking Shatner has you covered.

  5. Middle Seaman Says:

    Wooden barrels are cheaper and resulting wine way better.

  6. wetcasements Says:

    My cell phone has more computing power than any of the Apollo moon missions.

    Still blows my mind.

    Still makes me laugh when Teabaggers say the government can't accomplish anything.

  7. Toxicologist Chuck Says:

    the astronaut dude can't 'activate condesnsed polyurethane foam'. He has to MAKE it: and the isocyanate: polyalcohol reaction (polyurethane) is highly exothermic. what about the second degree burns all over our short term orbiting astronaut? NB fumes from the isocyanate rx v corrosive and can trigger v strong allergic reactions to those exposed as well

  8. A Says:

    This is why conspiracy theorists don't believe man ever walked on the moon. (Based on wecasements cell phone comment, it still makes me wonder too.)

  9. c u n d gulag Says:

    Having looked at this, I think I prefer the Soviet solution.
    In case of an emergency, you broke the glass and found a Hero Of Lenin Medal wrapped around a 1.75 bottle of 100 proof Stoli and a recording of the Red Army Chorus singing sad Russian folk songs.

    And Ed, you HAVE to tell us where you found this. You can't leave us hanging like this…

  10. tdd Says:

    I think its pretty obvious he found it while checking out various forms of autoerotic asphyxiation.

  11. deep cap Says:

    Of course this would have work. Anyone who has ever read Neal Stephenson's Anathem would know that in space travel, anything is possible.

  12. deep cap Says:

    @tdd LAUGH. OUT. LOUD.

  13. Misterben Says:

    Imagine working at GE when they were testing this thing – specifically, the whole inflating foam business. I would quit rather than climb in a bag about to fill up with a hardening foam.

  14. Joe Bauers Says:

    @tdd – Congratulations, you win the thread!

  15. Emily Says:

    Ed – you should check out Mary Roach's (new?) book, Packing for Mars.

  16. Another Luke Says:

    Like Stallone's SecureFoam from Demolition Man http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnyhkBU1yaw

  17. Major Kong Says:

    Actually ejection from an aircraft is no picnic.

    You take 17 G's up your spine, which will snap your neck if your head isn't properly positioned. Hopefully you got your knees and elbows tucked in tight or you might leave one in the cockpit when it hits the canopy rails.

    Then you hit the air at whatever speed the plane was going – oh let's say 400-500 knots. That can do some pretty nasty things to you.

    Then, assuming everything works correctly, you have to free-fall from possibly 40,000 feet, survive extreme cold (-40 celcius), parachute opening shock and parachute landing.

    Oh, and if you were one of my B-52 navigators, your ejection seat fired DOWNWARDS so if something happened at low altitude you were pretty well screwed.

    I know several people who have ejected and they all were injured to varying degrees.

  18. Chicagojon Says:

    Cost to taxpayers: 1.6 million dollars in 1969 dollars – equivalent to 9.8 million 2011 dollars.

    Yes I made that up, but seriously…how the hell did they justify time on crap like this. This demonstrates a serious flaw with the space program. From the start they valued individual life too greatly. If they instead went in expecting astronaut deaths and were willing to accept them they could have spent less time/money on safety devices and may have had faster and greater development in non-human components.

  19. Elder Futhark Says:

    I suspect Rick Santorum could generate a frothy anal foam that would survive reentry – again and again and again…

  20. Major Kong Says:

    Same reason the military puts money into pilot safety – it takes a lot of time and money to train an astronaut.

    I'll use an Air Force fighter pilot as an example just because I'm familiar with the Air Force training pipeline:

    By the time you take someone off the street, put them through pilot training, fighter lead-in training, train them in their assigned aircraft and then get them mission-ready at their assigned squadron you've invested roughly 2 years and 5 million dollars in that person.

  21. iceblue Says:

    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.

    I think that is my QOTD

  22. JohnR Says:

    Ed, wherever you got it, you only got part of the device – MOOSE was only half of it, obviously. CUNDGulag refers to the cheap Russian knockoff of the other half – the Superior-Quality, Inherently Reliable, Re-entry Enhancement Liquid. When the time to use MOOSE arose, the astronaut was first required to deploy SQUIRREL – a half-gallon of Jack Daniels (for a short time in 1964, Wild Turkey was substituted, but that was stopped when John Glenn complained). The jug was traditionally wrapped in the Marilyn Monroe Playboy photo shoot, but that was never officially part of the kit.

  23. BK Says:

    So let's just assume this little contraption worked and the astronaut survived re-entry and that parachute worked…

    How the hell do we find the guy or gal when they land? Less than 30% of the earth's surface is land, and of that, 90% of the world's population is living on less than 5% of the land.

    When our intrepid hero splashes down in the ocean or the middle of a desert or forest he or she is going to die of dehydration or starvation or exposure long before anyone finds him or her.

  24. bb in GA Says:

    The Apollo moon project cost about $20 billion in mid-1960s dollars. That's about $140 billion today. I bet the solar panels worked great on that ride too :-)

    //bb

  25. c u n d gulag Says:

    JohnR,
    ROFLMAO!

  26. Major Kong Says:

    @bb

    The Apollo service module used liquid hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity.

    They work great until they run out of liquid hydrogen.

    That's why satellites and the ISS use solar arrays to generate electricity long term.

  27. Keith Says:

    NASA archives are probably full of these kinds of never implemented reports where teams envisioned problems and possible solutions to as many emergency situations as possible. While this one is really funny, it also speaks highly of the organization that they were willing to brainstorm and commit resources to identifying creative solutions to difficult to plan for missions. Space travel was unprecedented in the 1960s, and when something has never been done, you have a lot more intellectual ground to cover to figure out what will and will not work.

  28. BigHank53 Says:

    I can recall seeing an artist's conception drawing of this thing in a Popular Mechanic's magazine from the same time period.

    And it's not just the NASA archives–I was at the Air and Space Museum's Silver Hill restoration facility, and in a hallway they all these display cases of models of proposed shuttle systems from the sixties…originally, they wanted to have a manned first stage, instead of throwing away a huge, expensive fuel tank every flight. Could have kept the heavy main engines on that stage, instead of dragging them to orbit.

    And NASA engineers "wasted money" on ideas like this because they all had to listen to Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee burn to death in the Apollo 1 command module.

  29. Jaime Says:

    courtesy of the insanely comprehensive Encyclopedia Astronautica:

    http://www.astronautix.com/fam/rescue.htm

    more technologically euphoric space escape system studies than you can shake a stick at…

  30. Jon Says:

    When it's not airing 26 back to back episodes of How It's Made, the Science Channel sometimes shows the excellent six hour documentary on the engineering of the Apollo missions called _Moon Machines_. Highly recommended if you're at all curious about where that $20 billion went and what an amazing deal it was.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Machines

  31. Lord Corwin Says:

    I hope you all realize Ed doesn't read the comments. Never seen him respond even once.

  32. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Lord Corwin: He responds often, but only to the idiotic ones.

    For some reason, this device reminds me of the "Sneakin' Into The Movies" sequence in HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE, where Townsend's character tries vainly to justify the impossible physics of the Indiana Jones movie: "A dude could jump off a mountain and not hurt himself, 'cause he did brace himself, and knew something about the levels of gravitivity and polarity." I'm sure Von Braun et al. sold it to the prospective astronauts in similar language.

  33. bb in GA Says:

    @Major Kong

    Thanks!

    10-4 on the fuel cells. BTW..whatever happened to them as an Alt Energy source here on terra?

    //bb

  34. Steve Muehleisen Says:

    This thing could work. The plastic bag would only be needed to give the hardend foam the proper shape. The foam would have to be thick enough and of the right composition. The Astronaut's spacesuit would protect them from any adverse chemical interactions with the expanding/hardening foam. Finally, finding the astronaut wouldn't be problem today. A radio beeper would go along with him/her and through the use of GPS their location could be easily determined.
    If I was the astronaut facing the choice of slow suffoctation or a MODERN version of M.O.O.S.E. I'd say "fuck it" and go with the moose.

  35. Ron Says:

    This is not nearly as silly sounding as half of the stuff that works. There are things that sound a lot more improbable that work just fine. – A tiny device that has 2 cameras in it, a GPS system, accelerometers, magnetic sensors 2 different radio communications systems,microphones, speakers, about 8+ gigs of memory and a dual core processor, and a touch screen.

  36. Marcus Says:

    Given funding, I'd develop this idea just for the skydiving/recreational aspect. i could see doig this on the weekends, once Space Tourism comes into reach.

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