Engineers helping create the next generation of US rockets plan to incorporate escape systems so crew members will have a chance to reach safety. The unmanned Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded shortly after liftoff earlier this week, giving viewers around the world another brutal reminder that space launches remain extremely dangerous.
NASA considered some form of escape system for the retired space shuttle fleet, but believed the aircraft were significantly safer, and the explosion of the Challenger shuttle in 1986 brought the world back to reality. However, the Launch Abort System is able to activate in just a few milliseconds, sending the crew 1.6 kilometers in altitude in a few seconds after activation.
"Under the original plan we were, as of now, about two years away from conducting the first launch of Antares with the second-generation propulsion system... I certainly think we can short that interval, but at this point I don't know by how much," said David Thompson, Orbital Sciences President and CEO.