Hitching a Ride on the Space Shuttle


The space shuttle docks with the ISS. While docked together, one of the cosmonauts on the ISS comes down with a really bad case of… [insert terrifying disease here]. Since the space shuttle is heading to Florida in a couple of days, can he just hop on board? Will the extra 80 or so kilograms of cosmonaut significantly affect the calculations required to land the shuttle?

First they need an extra seat. But my guess is they could rig something up if the guy is really sick. They might carry spare seats. I doubt 80kg is going to be a problem. If it was they could always leave another 80kg behind.

it would make very little difference. The space shuttle orbiter has an empty weight of 68,585kg. Changing it’s mass by about 0.1% isn’t going to matter.

On the other hand, if an astronaut does go down with some horrific space disease I submit he should be sent on a one-way trip to the sun, for the good of humanity.

They’d run the calcs with the new estimated weight and that’d be it. How big a difference would it make? Hard to say.

They track fuel consumption, net cargo transfers, estimated weight of trash downhauled, etc. There’s certainly a bounded error term in the weight estimates. But there’d be no reason to throw a known extra 80Kg in there without accounting for it.

That’s easier said than done. You can’t really just head straight towards the sun since you’re already in a solar orbit.

The space shuttle seats up to 10, more than it’s ever flown with, so no problem there. They would have to re-run calculations to account for the extra mass, but as Alka Seltzer said, the shuttle weighs more than 70,000 kg on deorbit. It’s unlikely an extra 80 kg would affect anything. At the same time though, those calculations would be run, because NASA doesn’t really have a history of just winging things.

Yes, IIRC correctly it takes more energy to reach the sun than the outer planets. If your astronaut has space-worms erupting from his eyeballs I still contend it’s worth it.

The space shuttle isn’t even capable of reaching the moon, so aiming it towards the sun is completely out of the question. I don’t know if there’s a spare maneuvering rocket lying around up there that they could rig to Sick Spaceman Spiff that would have enough thrust to carry just his body to the sun or not.

No matter what you do, the space worms will find a way to hide somewhere on the shuttle. They always do. Might as well send some nukes up on the next shuttle mission for the inevitable nuke 'em from orbit thing.

Even that is an understatement. The Space Shuttle isn’t even capable of reaching the International Space Station unless it’s launched into the correct orbit to begin with. (E.g. it couldn’t do a Hubble repair and then stop by at the ISS.)

I’m not sure new calculations would be of benefit. There must be a lot of unknowns associated with re-entry: exact density profile of the atmosphere, turbulence effects, etc. I’d bet that the extra 80kg wouldn’t change the trajectory within the margin of error.

Just out of curiosity, how much unexpected extra cargo could the shuttle—say, STS-133—bring back from orbit, safely? (Damned if I know what there’d be to haul back, and in such a hurry. A pod of dead space dolphins, maybe?)

Wasn’t the plan to originally bring the HST back to earth for servicing periodically? In which case it could bring back at least 11,000 KG.


Has the space shuttle ever returned a satellite from orbit? wasn’t that one of its original design features?

I think the heaviest payload brought back by the Shuttle is the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF), with a mass of 9700 kg. Though that doesn’t mean every Shuttle flight can bring back that much mass; some flights have larger crew and may have non-removable equipment in the payload bay.