Spaceheads, Technostalgia

Rocket Sled Revival

Rocket sleds are damn cool. Originally, rocket sleds were used by the Air Force and NASA to study ejection seats, missiles, model aircraft and the affects of acceleration and deceleration on the human body. As our understanding of aircraft and ejection systems increased along with computing power, the need for rocket sleds began diminishing. Several were closed, several were sold to private owners and universities, and one at Edwards AFB was even dismantled to extend another one at Holloman AFB. However, this retro-tech has found a new use within the walls of NASA — testing supersonic decelerators.

NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator program is studying potential means for decelerating large payload spacecraft to Mars’ surface. Currently, a combination of parachutes, landing rockets, skycranes and airbags are used to get exploratory spacecraft onto the Red Planet. However, these are all limited in how quickly they can deceleration a spacecraft as well as how heavy that spacecraft is. In order to get more and more stuff onto Mars to study it with and, eventually, a manned mission to Mars, we need a system that can decelerate the space craft quickly and smoothly.

NASA has gone back to the rocket sled for this testing, and it brings a smile to my face.

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[Image Credit: NASA]