How do you fit 11 people in Launch and Entry Suits in the Space Shuttle? Stacked like sardines, that’s how!

Back when we were getting ready to launch the final Hubble Servicing mission, we had to have a way to rescue the crew in the case of a compromised Orbiter thermal protection system. For missions to the ISS, we just “stranded” the crew on the station until we could send sufficient shuttle space to bring them home. For HST servicing, in a way different orbit, we had to send another Orbiter to get them. Quickly. That’s a story in itself (STS-400).

As part of the proof of concept for the mission, we had to show that we could fit eleven suited crewmembers in the rescue shuttle, so we gathered up a bunch of suit-qualified volunteers, an inventory of orange suits, and spent a delightful day cramming everyone into the Crew Compartment trainer. Then doing escape drills, just to make sure we could all get back out. Fun stuff – the suit techs had this huge ice chest with pumps to circulate water for suit cooling. I think it had six or seven cooling hoses, which was great for a normal crew, but with this crowd, we had to share hoses. “Hey, I need a quick shot of cold – someone give me a hit!”

The mid deck, when fully loaded with people laying down where the airlock used to be, was a sea of orange. It looked like a pumpkin patch in October. Getting out in a hurry required your neighbor’s help to activate your emergency oxygen because arms and torsos were overlapped. It worked though, and we could go ahead with the mission – but it always reminded me of “how many college students can you get into a Volkswagen”.

Wish I had the names of all these fine young people. I’m the old guy on the right.

Iron Flight

Paul F. Dye