We tend to think of escape pods as a science fiction trope: They jettison off of Star Destroyers or launch out the top of giant mechanical spiders just before Will Smith destroys them with a pun. But they're not all fictional: When everything has gone to hell, when the ship is sinking, when the shuttle is exploding, when that natural disaster is bearing down on you relentlessly, take hope. There actually might be an escape pod nearby ...
Ready to make everything just so much worse.
6The Lunar Escape System
In the year 1500, Chinese bureaucrat Wan Hu attempted the first manned rocket flight by strapping hundreds of fireworks to his chair and lighting the fuse. He lifted a few feet off of the ground, and quite reasonably exploded. Roughly 500 years later, with the help of centuries of careful consideration and all the industriousness of mankind's collective genius, NASA sat down with intricate blueprints, cutting-edge technology and the greatest minds of the day, and said, "Hey, what ever happened to that rocket chair thing?"
This is the Lunar Escape System (LESS).
Not this. This is just a Chinese man exploding.
A sprocket of engineers (that's what you call a group of them -- we looked it up) called the Apollo Applications Program were planning a series of long-duration moon stays, and got all the way to the design stage before NASA pulled the plug. But the blueprints were already complete: AAP had laid out everything for these extended trips to Earth's moon. Even an escape system, should the lander fail after idle weeks spent on the abrasive lunar surface.
In the event of a lander failure, instead of curling up into a ball and seeing how many tears moon dust can absorb (Hint: It's zero. They just pool in your face mask), you could unpack the Lunar Escape System from beneath the ship, assemble it like an IKEA bookshelf, then siphon off fuel from the lander and strap yourself on.
"Oh dear God, the Allen wrench is missing!"
Yes, we meant "on": You sat on top of the damn thing. There were no walls, no ceiling. Just a chair, you and open space.
"Look, it says right here in the manual: You have to hold my hand if I ask."
Once you were belted into your hastily assembled rocket chair filled with stolen fuel, you simply aimed for that tiny glimmer of light in between the stars. That was your Command Module. It's been up there the whole time, orbiting the moon, ready to take you home. All you have to do is hit it ... exactly.
It's like threading a needle that's a mile away and made of burning death.
This was accomplished using math and explosions and little else: The computer was deemed "too heavy" to be necessary, so it was up to the copilot to run all the calculations on a scratchpad, trying to work out the precise trajectory of both the LESS and that pinprick of light miles up in space. And if he forgot to carry a 1 and delayed the pickup by a few hours, then you both died in a vacuum. Because the LESS had no life support systems, aside from the four hours of air in the suit's backpacks, much of which would likely be used in the preparation stages. If literally anything went less than perfectly -- if one external variable went wrong, or if any component failed -- two astronauts went hurtling off into the blackness of space on the worst Bungee Chair Ride in history.