Spacecraft launches are no joke. If something goes wrong during a commercial launch, astronauts onsite have to hightail it out of there in a jiffy, before gallons of highly flammable rocket fuel turn everything on the launchpad to ashes, before one can shout, “Houston, we have a problem!”
Until now, NASA has been using the US-built M113 Armored Personnel Carriers for this demanding job. It is rather long in the tooth, but don’t let its age fool you – the M113 is still a virtually-everything-proof hulk. But the Hulk is old news; NASA is looking at the Hulkbuster!
Meet the MRAP truck. Behind that innocuous-sounding acronym is a rather frightening full name: Mine Resistant Ambush Protected. It weighs 45,000 pounds (20 tonnes to you and I), and, like the name says, was originally designed to ferry troops through war zones without fear of IEDs or ambushes. NASA now wants to use them as mobile fallout shelters should things go sideways during a launch sequence. The space agency now has four MRAP vehicles in its armoury, err… fleet, a gift to it from the folks at US Military.
In the preliminary tests, the MRAPs seems to have fared rather well despite having been built for war, according to NASA Commercial Crew Program representative, Steve Payne: “It was a lot smoother… (and) a lot more comfortable inside than we expected.” “Knowing how long it takes to get a person from the pad to where it will be safe is critical in our risk reduction for the crew,” he added.
And the MRAP certainly is fast for its size, reaching a top speed of up to 50 mph (80 km/h) despite being fully loaded with all the astronauts and their space gear. Unlike the M113, it uses wheels and tyres instead of tracks so it is also more nimble and easier to drive.
An all-round improvement for the human pursuit of knowledge and exploration then. Now, if only we could road test one of those.