EIB High Note: NASA Nighttime Splashdown — the Sort of Technological Marvel Rush Admired
May 3, 2021
KEN: Every day we share what’s called the EIB High Note, and today’s EIB High Note is the nighttime splashdown for NASA. Now yesterday, the four-astronaut crew of SpaceX, the Dragon Resilience, returned safely from the international station. They were up there for 168 days. At about 3 a.m., they landed in the Gulf of Mexico. This was the first nighttime return to earth for NASA since Apollo 8, which was the first mission to orbit the Moon in 1968.
Like millions of you, Rush was fascinated by space exploration. Today’s EIB High Note is Rush recalling the time he met the astronaut Kevin Chilton.
RUSH: It wasn’t long ago that I found myself in Tampa. We had to go over there for a meeting, and on the way back home, when we got back to the FBO at the airport, my pilots were talking to a guy in a blue Air Force uniform. I get out of the car and I approach the stairway to board EIB 1, the pilot says, “This is one of the astronauts of the final, last-ever shuttle mission.” I said, “No kidding?”
So I went over and I said hello to the guy. I don’t want to mention his name. I know who it is. I had a great, great conversation. The commander of the mission was there, too. Their T-38 had encountered a mechanical — astronauts get to fly around in T-38s. They get their own jets. A T-38, you ought to Google a T-38, see what it must be like to sit in the cockpit of one of these things and fly. You’re basically in a go-cart doing 1500 miles an hour. I mean if it weren’t for the canopy you’d be exposed. It’s an old plane but they had a mechanical problem. They had to put down. They were on their way to Houston back from the Cape. I had a great conversation with this one astronaut. These are the guys going up Friday, and they were nice as they could be.
And I said, “The thing that has always amazed me,” and I dropped a name that I knew they would know. You remember, Snerdley, there was an astronaut back during the TV show, he was a fan, and one of the other astronauts going up on a mission he was commanding had requested a videotape on Super 8 video that they would play for him in orbit from me, recorded from the set. His name was Kevin Chilton. Kevin went on after his astronaut days to run one of the most powerful, influential space agencies (Air Force Space Command).
So, anyway, I mentioned to this astronaut that I had met Kevin Chilton. Of course his eyes lit up because everybody in the astronaut program knows Kevin Chilton. That’s how important Kevin Chilton was. And I said, “I told Kevin Chilton…” I finally got a chance to meet him after we did the video from the TV set, and by the way, Kevin Chilton took some pictures outside the window of his shuttle of New York at night and blew those pictures up and gave them to me as a gift, EIB headquarters at night, and then during the daytime, and those pictures hang with pride in my domicile even to this day. But I told this guy, after mentioning Kevin Chilton’s name, and I said, “I even mentioned this to him and he said, ‘Oh, gosh, that’s nothing.'” I said, “What I have been most amazed at, and there’s a lot that I’m amazed at, but here you’ve got this space shuttle with a glide ratio of like nine to one,” which means it falls out of the sky like a rock.
It comes down from 230 miles high with no power. They hit their retrorockets and they slow down and they fall out of orbit and they go through the atmosphere and the heat shield deploys and all that stuff happens, and then they reenter the atmosphere, they’re aiming at basically a three-mile runway at Cape Canaveral from 200-plus miles high, and they’ve got one chance at it. They can’t power up and fly around and try again. And I’m going on and on and on, telling this guy I’m just amazed by this.
He said, “You know how we train that? You know how we practice that?” I said, “No.” “We go up in a Gulfstream II with the thrust reversers deployed to try to re-create coming in with no power. Of course, we gotta have power to our Gulfstream, we can’t come down with no power on the Gulfstream.” I said, “Why? You can do it with your shuttle. You’re falling out of the sky.” See, I’m amazed the thing even glides, to tell you the truth. But it does.
Now, the thrust reversers — folks, those are the things in the rear of a jet engine that are used, they’re deployed when the jet lands to help slow it down on the runway. They’re metal plates that fire up at the rear of the exhaust on the jet so that the exhaust, the thrust is reversed and thrown forward. So it’s like air brakes. If those things deploy in the air on your airliner, well, you fall out of the sky. They practice the shuttle coming back with the thrust reversers deployed on a Gulfstream II. It still amazes me that it’s worked.
I know a computer is handling it, but they still manually do the last thing at the last minute to flare the nose up and get it to land. It still amazes me.