Space rescue: The lessons from history that could save lives

Grant Cates’ wife confronted him with what seemed like an obvious question last February when he told her he had entered the lottery for a seat on Inspiration4, the first all-civilian orbital space mission: How could he be rescued if something went wrong?

“I said the worst-case scenario is that something goes wrong and I float around the Earth for a couple of weeks and the air goes bad. But I would get to say goodbye.” Unimpressed, his wife said to him that he’d “better figure out a way” to rescue himself, Cates says.

All this turned out be moot. The anonymous winner of the St. Jude sweepstakes gifted the coveted seat to Lockheed Martin engineer Chris Sembroski, who splashed down in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft in September with three fellow space enthusiasts.

The experience, however, set Cates’ mind in motion: The senior engineering specialist at the Aerospace Corp.’s space architecture department in Chantilly, Virginia, followed his wife’s advice and researched all the current in-space rescue capabilities available in the United States — under the auspices of the federally funded corporation’s latest offshoot, the Space Safety Institute, which it has established to provide independent safety advice to spaceflight organizations based in the U.S.

Featured expert Grant Cates (Aerospace), author of the CSPS publication “The In-Space Rescue Capability Gap”.

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