Possible Shuttle escape proceedure?

An article in the Times mentioned the daring parachute drop made by an American (possibly air force officer) from a fantastic altitude in the 1950s. I can’t remember how far up but he broke the sound barrier on the way down before being slowed by gradually increasing air resistance so he could deploy his parachute and he landed as any other parachutist would quite safely.
Could anything similar be arranged for the crew of an orbiter. If serious damage was discovered could the crew eject or jump out of the cargo bay close to the atmosphere and parachute as this guy did in the 1950s? The orbiter could then be safely crash landed by computer.
I’m thinking there could be problems with speed relative to the earths surface. I’m no mathmatician but the guy in the 50s jumped from a balloon and the orbiter, to get close to the atmosphere would be travelling at high velocity, the smaller your orbit the higher your velocity IIRC or else the orbiter would rapidly plunge into the atmosphere. Is there anything of use in this idea?

Are you referring to Col. Joseph W. Kittinger Jr., Pushkin? If so, it appears his freefall was only 9/10th the speed of sound.

I’d say stepping from off a gondola, and trying to escape a spacecraft going at the speed of the shuttle are different situations entirely.

There have been any number of proposals for escape systems from high altitude, including low orbit. See here. I don’t think many of them got much further than the drawing board, but escape does seem to be possible at least in principle.

I have read that the crew cabin is attached with explosive bolts, why I don’t know, but maybe we could attach a heat shield and parachute system, any thoughts on this?

Any and all escape mechanisms are limited by the fact that the shuttle is going so damned fast on re-entry. On launch, these devices may help… but it isn’t the most likely of things, especially if it adds a lot of weight to the launch system.

I have not heard that the crew cabin is attached with explosive bolts, although I know there are explosive bolts on the Shuttle. Perhaps they are in the hatch, and not for the whole cabin?

The problem with an F-111 type escape module is the speed and heat shielding. If used, it would be blasted away from the Shuttle. How can engineers be sure how the module will hit the atmosphere? There would probably be a very narrow range of attitudes when it would be safe. Suppose the Shuttle were to tumble suddenly and the module is popped off with its upper surface exposed to the air? It would burn up. (Of course, it would probably burn before it got a chance to be ejected, but you know what I mean.) Also, supposing you could eject without burning up, how long until the module is stabilized? The g-forces in a tumble could kill the occupants.

Such a system would have to be retrofitted at great expense – not only in dollars, but in complexity and weight. The more the Shuttle weighs, the less is its payload. There’s a saying that “‘Better’ is the enemy of ‘Good’.” Look at your computer. If you didn’t buy a computer because something better was just about to be released, then you’d never buy a computer because something better is always out coming up. But I think the real point of the saying is that you can put up a “good” system now. (And when I say “good”, I’m not talking about those little feedback cards were everyone wants to see “Excellent” – I’m talking about a good workable solution.) Sure, you can build a “better” system, but while you’re waiting for that system you’re not flying.

So what we have is a system that has flown over a hundred missions and we have lost two. It’s safer than Apollo. For over 20 years we haven’t been able to come up with anything better. (There are a couple of projects – one of them cancelled – that show some promise, however.) So if we waited for “better”, we would not have been flying Shuttles for the past two decades. There will be a better system eventually; but extensive redesign and retrofitting of the remaining Shuttle fleet just doesn’t make sense. Astronauts know the risks and they accept them. As NASA says, “Sometimes you just have a bad day.”