NASA’s terrifying plan to rescue space shuttle astronauts in giant fabric ball

Astronauts in an emergency could have found themselves floating back to Earth in a fabric ball thanks to an early space rescue device.

NASA's Personal Rescue Enclosure (PRE) was developed at the same time as the Space Shuttle Program was beginning, reports Universe Today.

A 1979 book titled NASA Facts described how would the contraption would be used, stating: "If a shuttle orbiter should become disabled, the commander and payload specialist will get inside of a personal rescue enclosure; the pilot and mission specialist will don their spacesuits."

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Measuring just 0.33 cubic metres, each PRE, also known as a rescue ball, was designed to bring a lone astronaut whizzing back to Earth inside it if their space shuttle became damaged.

The small device was made up of just three layers of fabric – urethane, Kevlar, and an outer thermal layer – and had a small window and zippers for entry and exit.

The contraption also had an oxygen supply and carbon dioxide scrubber that would last just one hour, meaning the rescue mission would have to be quick.

It would make for a pretty terrifying descent back to Earth – fortunately, while NASA built a prototype for the bizarre method of transportation, it never went on any missions.

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The PRE was designed for scenarios where there were not enough spacesuits for the entire crew – space shuttle astronauts didn't wear space suits at all times – and when there was enough time to launch a rescue shuttle.

The PRE would have been attached to the Space Shuttle until the airlock depressurised, at which point an astronaut wearing a suit would transport the device and the astronaut inside to the rescue shuttle.

NASA Facts continued, adding the PRE "will turn formidable and costly space missions into routine, economical operations generating maximum benefits for people everywhere."

However, it was not to be and the PRE was abandoned after everyone on space shuttles was given appropriate space suits.

Now, NASA has developed much more robust ways to protect their astronauts.

Everyone working outside the International Space Station (ISS) has to wear the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER) system fitted with a jetpack to get them back to safety should their tether fail or in case they become separated from other equipment.

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