fifty years ago JULY 26, 1971 Archives

A switch to save astronauts

For nearly 12 minutes after the Apollo 15 astronauts leave earth on their 12-day round trip to the moon, Major Kenneth Aisler will have his finger poised over a switch that could end it all abruptly. That finger against the Red “Destruct” switch would start a series of events resulting in the jettisoning of the command module containing the three Apollo 15 astronauts, the destruction of the Saturn 5 booster rocket, and the ultimate descent to earth of the Apollo spacecraft from its recovery parachutes. From that moment on, it would be up to “Beach Boss” Col. Robert A. Van Arsdall and his air, land and sea forces standing by for just such a disaster. These two Air Force officers have in their hands the fate of astronauts David R. Scott, James B. Irwin and Alfred M. Worden. They also are responsible for other life and property should the Saturn rocket stray from its programmed path. Although all of America’s 24 manned space flights have made it safely through those tenuous early minutes, safety crews are never sure. They constantly are working to perfect techniques and find new equipment. Things can go wrong. If something happens to Saturn 5’s propulsion in the first 100 seconds of the flight, something that endangers the rocket’s safety, an escape rocket perched on top of the command ship can pull it away from the imminent explosion and fireball. That escape rocket develops 66,679 kg. of thrust. It is eight metres long.

It can be fired either by an automatic system triggered by bad news from sensors in the propulsion system, or it can be fired manually by the astronauts themselves. Should that happen, Van Arsdall’s rescue helicopters would attempt to be over the stricken command ship and its three crewmen within seconds of their landing.

If the impact is on land,a helicopter can dump 385 kg. of foam on the area to stifle brush fires and provide a downdraft of cool air. Another helicopter then moves in with rescuers, medicos and technicians trained to open jammed hatches.

An abort into the water would trigger rescue procedures similar to recovery at the end of a flight.

The HH-53 helicopter known as the super jolly green giant is powerful enough to carry the command module to safety. ABLM, a utility landing craft, stands by 8 km off shore for shallow water salvage and two larger vessels will be down range for deep water recovery.

More than one million people are expected at the Cape area to watch the giant Saturn 5 blast-off. The weather is expected to be good for launch time. Scott and Irwin are scheduled to land on the moon at 3.45 I.S.T. on July 31 and return to earth, north of Hawaii, on August 8 at 2.16 I.S.T.


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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 6:54:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/archives/a-switch-to-save-astronauts/article35529387.ece

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