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NASA Plays Clown Car with Crew Dragon Cargo Compartment

In Case of Emergency, Strap Copilot to Floor

The situation aboard the ISS has not abated just yet, with the leak on the Soyuz spacecraft forcing a shakeup in astronaut scheduling for the foreseeable future.

Recent efforts to prep for any exigency have shown some of that old-fashioned NASA creativity, however, with both NASA and Roscosmos staff coming together to see just how they could finagle an escape should an evacuation be required before their scheduled departure. The solution? Jamming everyone in the only spacecraft that can (mostly) accommodate the full crew of astronauts and cosmonauts, the SpaceX Crew Dragon. Unfortunately, just like the 3rd wheel in a 2-bed hotel room, whoever draws the short straw will have to sleep on the floor. 

The plan would entail using the docked Crew Dragon, reconfiguring its cargo compartment, and rigging up a seat, and strapping the unlucky spacefarer to the floor. NASA program manager Steve Stich explained their thought process: 

"We started looking at - like we always do in spaceflight - what is available? What could work" And so we figured out this cargo area might be about the right size to put a seat liner and a crew member down in this area. Then we went off and analyzed all the different things that we needed to have in place. Is the airflow acceptable? Can we maintain carbon dioxide scrubbing and all those sorts of things? Do we have enough Oxygen and supplies for them?"

It turns out survival isn't that simple, and the overhead in supply wasn't quite generous enough to provide for more than the usual Crew Dragon passenger load without some additional work.

"We figured that was out, and then, we looked at how we would position the seat liner to restrain the crew member in this area. So we looked at taking some cargo straps from the CRS-26 vehicle. Those fit very well on the pallet. We were able to put the straps over Frank and then the seat liner if we needed to. And then secure him to the floor of the Dragon. ...Is it going to be okay to land in this configuration? Should we do that?"

Thankfully, everything looked promising. "We went and did all the kinds of analysis we do in terms of accelerations for the crew member. Those all came back acceptable and so we convinced ourselves it was a good posture to be in for this contingency as Joel said if we really would have to evacuate ISS. And then, you know, we could actually accommodate two more crew members in this cargo pallet area if we needed to."

While the crew won't likely need to undergo a fire drill and run back home, it's good to know there's a provision for it. The next launch is projected to take off on February 26 with NASA Crew 6, bringing up a crew of 4 astronauts. 



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