USAF: Orion Astronauts Would Not Survive Explosion Early in Flight

Report: No escape system could save astronauts if Ares I rocket exploded during first minute
Orlando Sentinel


The crew of NASA’s newest spacecraft “will not survive” an explosion of the Ares I rocket within the first minute of launch because blazing chunks of solid-rocket fuel would melt the parachutes on the crew-escape system, according to a new Air Force report.

The report by the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base — which has safety responsibility for the Cape Canaveral rocket range — used data from an unmanned Titan IV that was blown up by safety officers when its guidance system malfunctioned soon after leaving the pad at Cape Canaveral in 1998. Like Ares I, the Titan used solid-fuel motors.

The explosion created a cone of red-hot debris that spread across nearly three miles. If a similar safety decision was made to blow up an Ares I, the report said, no escape system could blast the Orion capsule and its crew away from the flaming debris quickly enough to keep its parachutes from being incinerated.

But Jeff Hanley, who manages NASA’s Constellation program that includes the Ares I, questioned the validity of the Air Force study because it relied on only one example. He said NASA had done its own study, using supercomputers to replicate the behavior of Ares I, that predicted a safe outcome.

“We have analysis that tells today that the capsule will fly free of the danger,” Hanley said. “Our analysis says the crew capsule will not be exposed to the more severe environments.”

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