back to article SpaceX Dragon crew capsule in 'CHUTE ABORT drama – don't panic, no one died

At 0900 EDT (1300 UTC) today, SpaceX launched a Dragon 2 capsule, capable of carrying a human crew, high into the sky, and gently landed it on the Atlantic ocean. It was a NASA-required experiment to test whether or not the craft can safely return to Earth without killing anyone onboard if a launch is aborted shortly after …

  1. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Slight oops

    It looks like one of the thrusters burped, and so the apogee and speed reached was not quite the target. It wasn't too much of an underperformance though.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Slight oops

      They did say "just offshore" and it did land just offshore. Launch seemed okay to me.

      What I noticed was the long classy silence after splashdown, letting the pictures do the talking. Nice.

      It is a shame tho, that the good old "escape tower" is gone, alas...

    2. Anonymous John

      Re: Slight oops

      Musk stated that four out of the eight thrusters would have been enough, so I don't understand how one or two under-performing would have accounted for this.

      1. DrMordrid

        Re: Slight oops

        One thruster had an incorrect fuel:oxidizer ratio and at the last second a headwind from the east came in, blowing it back towards shore while under the canopies (there's a tropical storm developing east of Florida.)

    3. Martin Budden
      Thumb Up

      Re: Slight oops

      "If you can walk away from a landing, it's a good landing." - Chuck Yeager says this didn't count as an oops.

  2. Vulch


    By one of those coincidences I had the radio going in my headphones mixed with the audio from the webcast. Just before SpaceX started their T-13 minute poll the radio started playing Public Service Broadcastings "Go!" so I had two teams 46 years apart polling.

    Nicked from /., an unmanned Mercury abort comes down a similar distance offshore

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I am in awe..

    Maybe I'm not as jaded as I think. I watched this and I felt like I was kid again watching the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo launches.

    Well done SpaceX. May you get us back into space... soon.

    1. phil dude
      Thumb Up

      Re: I am in awe..

      It is like watching science fiction becoming fact...

      Shame we have so many power obsessed politicians that ignore the benefits of scientific research.


    2. Anonymous John

      Re: I am in awe..

      It's like living through the 1960s again.Hopefully without retreating to Earth orbit for decades this time.

  4. imanidiot Silver badge

    Lets hope this is never needed

    I'm sure it's survivable, but that violent pitchover after detachment of the cargo section looks VERY uncomfortable.

    1. Irongut

      Re: Lets hope this is never needed

      Bill would be going mental but Jeb would love it.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Lets hope this is never needed

      "...VERY uncomfortable"

      Yes, I thought that too. Then I remembered WHY astronauts might have to go through that. Brown trousers might be a better option than having a rocket explode right under your arse ;-)

      1. MrDamage

        Brown Trousering your spacesuit.

        And you thought a fart in an elevator was bad.

    3. Anonymous John

      Re: Lets hope this is never needed

      My first thought was why not deploy the parachutes before dumping the trunk. Secong though was that it's not an option when returning from orbit.

      1. Vulch

        Re: Lets hope this is never needed

        My first thought was why not deploy the parachutes before dumping the trunk.

        Because the capsule will be facing the wrong way and there would be a very high chance of the rigging getting tangled on the trunk leading to a Bad Day. Though I suppose if you've already needed to abort, getting the parachutes wrapped round the trunk would make it a Worse Day.

    4. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Lets hope this is never needed

      I'm sure it's survivable, but that violent pitchover after detachment of the cargo section looks VERY uncomfortable.

      Don't worry, I'm sure that SpaceX will have engineered super drinks holders that won't spill a drop and the CD player will have a buffer so that it won't skip and the astronauts that just avoided being blown apart and cremated in LOX/RP1 fire won't miss a second of their Steppenwolf track.

  5. Nolveys Silver badge

    Zero to 100mph in 1.2 seconds

    I got a hernia just reading that.

    Huge kudos to the SpaceX, they keep blowing my mind with the coolness of their stuff and the excellence of their success record.

    1. AndyS

      Re: Zero to 100mph in 1.2 seconds

      Sounds crazy, but it translates to 4.5G - high, but not that obscene. Similar to take-off from an aircraft carrier, slightly lower than a cable-arrested carrier landing.

      So - uncomfortable? Yes. Dangerous? Less so than the alternatives, and fine if you're trained for it.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: Zero to 100mph in 1.2 seconds

        Slightly less than an F1 driver experiences each lap of a race.

  6. Gary Bickford

    Not dead, but dizzy

    Watching the vid, my first thought was, "they won't be dead, but I'll bet they threw up!" - the capsule was swinging wildly until they main chutes took over. My second thought was, "How do they cram all that equipment into that tiny capsule? Especially considering that under the nose cone is the complete exit and entrance hatch system, plus no doubt umbilicals for connecting the capsule to the space habitat, plus probably some other stuff. Totally amazing engineering, good job all round.

    1. Vulch

      Re: Not dead, but dizzy

      under the nose cone is the complete exit and entrance hatch

      There's also a side hatch on both versions of the Dragon.

    2. Anonymous John

      Re: Not dead, but dizzy

      Not that tiny. It can take seven astronauts, and the unpressurised parts of the capsule are nearly half of the total volume.

  7. Pebsham

    Strange that this is essential for SpaceX but NASA's own Space Shuttle had no such escape system

    1. hplasm Silver badge

      Not on Shuttle-

      That what happens when the Black Budget gets its way.

      1. TheProf

        Re: Not on Shuttle-

        Didn't the Shuttle have a long pole that could be shoved out of the hatch that astronauts could 'monorail' away from a stricken vehicle during launch?

        1: I've explained that badly.

        2: I may have imagined it.

        3: All of the above.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not on Shuttle-

          "...Didn't the Shuttle have a long pole that could be shoved out of the hatch..."

          Wow, I really hope so. I'd prefer the term 'rod' rather than pole. Please let it have been made out of carbon. In rod we trust.....

          1. Steve Todd

            Re: Not on Shuttle-

            It was one of the extra safety measures they brought in following the Challenger disaster IIRC. It was doubtful that it would do any good, but the idea was not to smash the 'nauts against the side of the airlock as the wind caught them on the way out.

            As the solid boosters and external fuel tanks could all be jettisoned I think the idea was that the shuttle was the emergency escape capsule. That didn't work out too well though.

        2. Vic

          Re: Not on Shuttle-

          Didn't the Shuttle have a long pole that could be shoved out of the hatch that astronauts could 'monorail' away from a stricken vehicle during launch?

          They used that on "Space Cowboys". I'm not certain it existed on a real Shuttle...


        3. 2fast748

          Re: Not on Shuttle-

          The shuttle did get an escape system but only after the Challenger disaster. Most astronauts privately said it was completely useless as trying to eject from a vehicle going several thousand miles an hour is a lost cause anyway. Abort to orbit was an option for the shuttle which kind of tells you all you need to know about an object being hurtled vertically by an engine that can't be turned off (solid fuel boosters at least).

        4. rh587 Bronze badge

          Re: Not on Shuttle-

          The Shuttle was it's own abort capsule. Half the crew were on the mid-deck anyway, so impossible to eject, and the odds of them actually getting to a hatch if something went wrong were slim. They toyed with making the crew compartment an entire ejectable pod that could detach from the rest of the orbiter vehicle, but time, funding - never happened.

          As one astronaut pointed out - at launch, if you're at an altitude where you can eject, then the SRBs are still burning - if you survive going through their flame trail, you won't have a parachute. Once the SRBs are burned out, you're too high and fast to eject anyway. Short of a fully enclosed ejection cabin, it was a bit of a non-starter.

          At landing, if you've made it to a safe bail-out altitude, then you've survived the worst of re-entry in one piece anyway!

          What they did have was a hoofing zip-wire from the top of the launch tower down to an armoured personnel carrier, which was left with the engine running during the launch process. If something went wrong early in the launch, then in theory they could pile back out the main hatch and leave the shuttle to burn on the pad. Of course, in bulky launch suits, the odds of them ever making it as far the cage in time to zip away before it all went boom was miniscule.

          The slidewires were probably of more value to technicians and closeout crew members if there was a problem during the preparation and fuelling stages and they needed to get off the launch tower in a hurry (fuel leak, pad fire or something)

      2. cray74

        Re: Not on Shuttle-

        "That what happens when the Black Budget gets its way."

        The shuttle's escape system(s) weren't cut because of a black budget. The shuttle only happened because the USAF combined its public space flight budget with NASA's very public budget, and both were too small (separately or together) to address every need of something as complicated as a spaceplane. The USAF did add some extra demands like once-around flights that increased the cost of the shuttle, but NASA's pre-USAF designs didn't have the budget to fly, either.

        The problem had nothing to do with Hollywoodisms like a black budget and everything to do with a government and public uninterested in funding very expensive spaceflight systems after the Space Race had been definitively won. There were Commies to beat in Vietnam early in the shuttle program; Commies to stare down in Russia all through the shuttle program; and lots of welfare programs to fund that, at the time, even Republicans like Nixon thought were great things. NASA wasn't going to get Apollo-level funding in that environment, nor was the Air Force going to get the budget it wanted for its questionably-useful manned spaceflight projects that kept being undermined by unmanned alternatives like ICBMs and KH-11s.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Maybe that's *why* it's now a requirement.

      They could have learned from early Apollo accidents as well, but hey...

      But get satellites back...

    3. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      "Strange that this is essential for SpaceX but NASA's own Space Shuttle had no such escape system"

      However much fun a death slide in a wicker basket from a static launcher may be, it doesn't help once the rockets have fired - unless you've got very, very long stretchy wires.

      Sorry, I've now got cartoon images of an Acme wicker basket instantly turning to charcoal and a pair of severely scorched coyote eyes blinking as the rocket flies past ...

    4. phuzz Silver badge

      They did have ejection seats on the first few Shuttle flights, but they weren't much use during much of the flight, and only worked for the people on the upper deck, so they were removed.

    5. John Stoffel

      That second paragraph is bollocks!

      I like how NASA holds everyone else to that high standard, but then relaxes it when it came to the shuttle. The first couple of test flights had ejection seats, but after that they were removed. This is what I don't like large solids for manned launches. A) you can only test fire them once, B) they're hard to shutdown when problems arise. With a liquid (or possibly a hybrid solid/lquid Oxidizer) you have more of a chance to shutdown cleanly.

      Look at how various Saturn V launches had problems but kept going because they could just shutdown one of the engines. SpaceX had one like that too if I recall...

      As did the shuttle, post booster seperation where they had one engine shutdown early and they just ran the other two longer to get into almost the correct orbit.

  8. willi0000000

    if i recall correctly, the earliest Shuttle designs had ejector seats for the crew but this was deemed impractical . . . the next iterations had the entire crew capsule detach and fly away like the Dragon . . . a set of solids strapped to the shuttle was also proposed to pull the entire craft away from the boosters and tank.

    all that got scrapped because of weight and complexity problems . . . also $$

    the "pole (rod) out the door" concept was an idiot idea and completely unworkable . . . the assumption was that it might be used if the Shuttle was near subsonic speed on reentry when something went wrong . . . guy near the door shoves out the rod while everybody else puts on parachutes then they bail while he puts on his chute . . . oops, forgot the pilot . . . he has to keep it steady for everybody else to bail then put on a chute and climb down to the crew section from the flight deck before he can get out.

    without a crew escape capsule that can also act as a reentry vehicle the Shuttle was a disaster waiting to happen.

    1. cray74

      The first two (?) flights of the Columbia had ejection seats for the 2-man crews, which were only useful at low altitudes and speeds. They were removed in later flights.

      1. Alex Brett

        If you read 'Riding Rockets' by the astronaut Mike Mullane (an excellent read by the way), he said some astronauts thought if they used the seats in flight they'd probably just end up going through the SRB exhaust, i.e. they were only any good before launch...

    2. Trigonoceps occipitalis


      entire crew capsule detach and fly away

  9. hugo tyson

    The Shuttle was indeed intended to be its own escape capsule details lots of cunning plans; but they all address a detected component failure - nothing's available to deal with an actual explosion or other gross mechanical failure.

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