100 Ways to Die in Space – # 14 Re-entry

Welcome to 100 Ways to Die in Space

Hi there bloggies, welcome to a new and fun little feature – 100 ways to die in space. Taking inspiration from a million ways to die in the west I’ll be taking a somewhat tongue in cheek at the many and various ways that space is somewhat unkind to the average human being and it pretty effective at killing them very quickly. Step aboard and see what happens, just don’t come on wearing a red top!

Method 14 – Re-entry

Re-entering Earth’s atmosphere is one of those things where you need to concentrate – becasue you can’t get it wrong. But once you’re committed there really is very little one can do except close your eyes, hold on and pray it will be alright.

First of all there’s the angle of entry – get this wrong and the choices are bouncing off the atmosphere and being shot out into deep space never to be seen again – or you’re in the realms of dropping like a rock and burning to a cinder.

There are not good choices.

But why is it like this? Quite simply the spacecraft that any wary astronaut is in is moving pretty fast, well damn bloody quick in fact. tens of thousands of miles and hour and at those speeds air heats up really rather quickly. This process of re-entry is the main step for slowing the spacecraft down. When one realises there no air to put out a parachute or anyway of applying the brakes it was decided by someone with more intellect than sense that the best way to slow down was let the atmosphere do it.

They then promptly send someone else up to test it for them. When it worked they cheered and slapped each other on the back for their ingenuity. This is indeed how much of the testing in space travel works. Brain boxes come up with mad ideas and then look for someone crazy enough to try it. This system seems to work.

Anyway, back to re-entry. despite doing this for years it seems that we’ve not yet got it completely safe. There have been several accidents and near misses over the years and it’s sad to say some loss of life. But so far it seems to be the only way of getting someone’s two feet back on the ground. The main risk being (once the correct approach has been sorted) is that the heatshield is either intact or attached. Either of these two problems don’t tend to end well.

The thing is with this, when you’re listening to the air rushing past the hull of your ship and about 20,000 miles an hour there’s really not much that can be done if something goes wrong. Also if anything does go wrong it will happen quickly… when is the space elevator being built?

© Simon Farnell 2013 – 2023

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9 thoughts on “100 Ways to Die in Space – # 14 Re-entry

  1. If we manage to make it through into an age in which controlled space flight is common they will look back upon this era the same way as we look back to the time of the first planes and think…..’How the heck did they manage to navigate to from one point to another and back again?’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Re-entry has to be the scariest part of space flight next to takeoff atop a tin can holding thousands of gallons of chemicals that don’t normally play well together. The Boeing flight museum in Seattle has one of the Apollo capsules on display. Up close it is incredibly charred…my hats of to the crazy bastards that flew in that one.

    I was thinking about space debris while reading this. So many onjects have exploded in space, the debris field must be monstrous. Thousands of those pieces are very small in size making them impossible to track and avoid on a space walk. Has there been any major damage to a craft as a result? Thankfully no astronauts have been hurt.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve heard stories about orbital debris myself, including the International Space Station sustaining some damage from it along with a few near misses that would have been alot worse. That would probably make another good entry for this series. 🙂

      As for re-entry; you’re in the atmosphere at that point. You’re fudging a little again Simon. 😀

      I’ll pass on the obvious and easy joke about the whole concept burning me up too. 😛


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