TIME United Kingdom

UK’s First ‘Poo Bus’ Rides on Human Waste Fuel

Wessex Water/GENeco

It runs from Bristol Airport to Bath City Center

Talk about a gas guzzler: a new bus in Britain runs on biomethane fuel produced by humans sewage and food waste.

The Bio-Bus—or as it’s more affectionately known, “the poo bus”—can travel up to 186 miles on one tank of gas, which takes the annual waste of about five people to produce, the BBC reports. A single passenger’s annual food and sewage waste can fuel the Bio-Bus for 37 miles.

The bus, which emits up to 30% less carbon dioxide than conventional diesel vehicles, will shuttle people between Bristol Airport and Bath.

GENeco general manager Mohammed Saddiq said, “Gas-powered vehicles have an important role to play in improving air quality in UK cities but the Bio-Bus goes further than that and is actually powered by people living in the local area, including quite possibly those on the bus itself.”

[BBC]

TIME space

New View of the Solar System’s Most Fascinating Moon

The newly released image of Jupiter's moon Europa.
The newly released image of Jupiter's moon Europa. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA's reprocessed picture of Jupiter's Europa gives us a fresh look at the likeliest place in the solar system for extraterrestrial life.

This is not the back of an eyeball—even though it looks like the back of an eyeball. It’s Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa—the sixth largest moon in the solar system, just behind Earth’s. But the organic appearance of Europa in this newly released, newly reprocessed image captured by the Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s is apt all the same, because the moon may be the likeliest world in the solar system to harbor extraterrestrial life.

Europa is entirely covered by a shell of water ice, anywhere from 1.8 mi. to 62 mi. (3 to 100 km) thick, depending upon which astronomer’s estimates you’re using and where on the moon you’re measuring. But the existence of the ice is proven, and it all but certainly covers a deep, mineral rich water ocean descending to a depth of another 62 mi. It is tidal flexing that keeps the ocean liquid—the steady gravitational plucking Europa experiences every time is passes or is passed by one of its three large sister moons, Io, Ganymede and Callisto.

In the same way a wire hanger bent rapidly back and forth can become too hot to touch at the point of flexing, so too does the center of Europa heat up. That causes the water to remain both relatively warm and constantly in motion. Keep that up for 4 billion years in an oceanic environment believed to contain hydrocarbons, and you may well cook up something living.

The most compelling evidence for Europa’s dynamic behavior was gathered by Voyager 2, when it flew by the moon in 1979, and Galileo, when it arrived in Jovian orbit in 1995. The cameras of both spacecraft captured the vascular-looking webwork of fractures in the moon’s surface ice, and close up images revealed what looked like jagged icebergs that had broken free, tipped sideways and quickly frozen back in place in the paralyzing cold of deep space. All this suggested an ocean that was in constant motion.

The colors used in earlier versions of the reprocessed image were based on knowledge of what the moon’s chemistry is and a bit of conjecture about exactly what shades it would produce. But the new version is based on both improved knowledge and improved image processing. The ruddy colors in the fractures are the products of the minerals that bubble up through the cracks. Green, violet and near-infrared filters were used to establish the proper palette.

A better, more accurate picture of Europa does nothing to change the facts on the ground there—or, more tantalizingly, below the ground. The moon remains the most fascinating non-Earthly object in our solar system. The new image, however, does serve as one more come-hither gesture from a world that’s been beckoning us to return for a long time.

TIME United Kingdom

First Bus to Run on Human Waste Takes to UK Streets

Gas-powered vehicles are better for the environment

Britain’s first bus to be powered entirely by human and food waste went into service Thursday.

The environment-friendly vehicle can travel up to 186 miles on one tank of biomethane gas, which is produced from the annual sewage and food waste of about five people.

Engineers hope the bus will play an important role in improving urban air quality and in providing a sustainable way of fuelling public transport.

The Bio-Bus seats 40 people and will be a shuttle between Bristol Airport and Bath in South West England.

[Guardian]

 

 

 

 

 

TIME Environment

Global Temperatures Are the Hottest on Record for a Fifth Month This Year

Record Hot
An Indian commuter splashes water from a pipe onto his face to get respite from the heat at the railway station in Allahabad, India, on June 7, 2014 file photo Rajesh Kumar—AP

That's despite the U.S. experiencing a bit of a deep freeze

The world is heading for the warmest year on record with October the fifth month to break worldwide heat records.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Thursday that the average global temperature for October was 58.43ºF (14.74ºC).

“It is becoming pretty clear that 2014 will end up as the warmest year on record,” said Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “The remaining question is: How much?”

This year, the world’s temperature is averaging 58.62ºF, (14.78ºC), already beating other hot years 2010 and 1998.

Arndt says man-made global warming is to blame. The burning of coal, oil and gas causes heat to be trapped in the earth’s atmosphere. The world’s oceans absorb this heat and because of their size, are slow to cool down. Over the past six months the world’s ocean temperatures have been their warmest on record.

Scientists say the year-on-year, decade-on-decade rise in global temperatures is proof that climate change is real and not slowing down.

“[This] is climate change, and we are seeing it in spades,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist for Texas Tech, told the Associated Press.

The freezing temperatures and snowstorms in the U.S. won’t have an affect on the heat records as the area experiencing the cold spell is just 1.5% of the entire globe.

In 2014, October, September, August, June and May all set global heat records.

TIME space

Watch a Black Hole Get Evicted From a Galaxy

A dramatic study—and an equally dramatic video simulation—reveal a cataclysmic cosmic event

A couple of years ago, astronomer Michael Koss was searching the heavens for active galactic nuclei (AGN). In plain English, those are giant black holes, lurking in the cores of galaxies, which swallow matter so voraciously that the gas they gobble heats up to an incandescence visible billions of light-years away. And he wasn’t looking for just any AGN; he was looking for twin AGNs, which occur when two AGN-bearing galaxies merge into one.

Then, says Koss, “I found this thing.”

The thing was just a single spot of light, labeled SDSS1133, nestled in a dwarf galaxy called Markarian 177, located in the bowl of the Big Dipper, about 90 million light-years from Earth. It looked just like an AGN—except it wasn’t in the galaxy’s core. It was off-center by about 2,600 light-years. So maybe it wasn’t an AGN after all, but an unusual type of exploding star.

But when Koss went back to earlier observations, some made by NASA’s Swift satellite, the bright spot was there, at least as far back as the 1950’s. Since stars don’t usually take a half-century to explode, Koss and several colleagues were forced to consider a much stranger possibility: the mystery object could be an AGN after all, but one that was somehow booted from the center of its galaxy. Their report appears in the November 21 Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

You might imagine it would be touch difficult to boot a black hole anywhere, especially one that weighs millions of times as much as a star. There is, however, one thing that could do the job: a second black hole. Sort of. “We suspect we’re seeing the aftermath of a merger of two small galaxies and their central black holes,” said co-author Laura Blecha, of the University of Maryland, in a statement.

The idea goes like this. Astronomers know that galaxies that wander too close to each other get trapped by their mutual gravity, and merge into one; it happens all the time, in fact. Since virtually all galaxies have huge black holes inside, the new, combined galaxy ends up with twin black holes in their cores (some of which turn into the double AGN’s Koss was looking for in the first place).

But the black holes themselves can merge as well. When that happens, the cataclysm sends gravitational waves rippling across the universe. If the black holes have different masses and different spins, those waves can shoot out more powerfully in one direction than another—and that can kick the new, single black hole right out of the galaxy’s core. “That’s our most plausible case,” Koss says.

It’s not the only case, however: the scientists haven’t ruled out the idea that the bright spot is an exploding star after all. If so, the light seen in earlier images from the 1950s could have come from violent eruptions on the star, which culminated in an explosion back in 2001, when SDSS1133 brightened visibly. It’s not unheard of: a nearby star in our own galaxy, Eta Carinae, is erupting in what astronomers think could be a prelude to a full-fledged supernova explosion.

But SDSS1133 shines brightly in ultraviolet as well as visible light, even though the ultraviolet light from supernovas tends to fade quickly. Followup observations with the Hubble Space Telescope a year or so from now could clear up the question for good.

In the meantime, it’s natural to wonder whether SDSS1133 will eventually fly out of its host galaxy entirely and begin to roam the universe as a naked black hole. The answer, says Koss, is “it’s hard to say.” The galaxy itself is small, so it doesn’t have a lot of gravity to hold SDSS1133 back. But the original kick wasn’t all that hard, so the black hole might not have reached escape velocity.

In short, we’ll know one way or another whether SDSS is a black hole within the year. To learn whether it will escape Markarian 177—well, that’ll take a couple million.

TIME

In The Latest Issue

The Genius Issue Benedict Cumberbatch Time Magazine Cover
Photograph by Dan Winters for TIME

The Price of Genius
Alan Turing, the man who pioneered computing, also forced the world to question what it means to be human

The 25 Best Inventions of 2014
Welcome to Time’s annual round-up of the best inventions making the world better, smarter and—in some cases—a little more fun

A Constitutional Moment
The Founding Fathers were clear about who sets immigration policy

Tackling Immigration Alone
The President has good reason to bypass Congress. But he’ll pay a price

GE Makes a Big Bet on Manufacturing
The company’s plan to make things again is a test for the entire American economy

Jorge Ramos Is America’s New Anchor
He’s not just another journalist, and his opinions count with millions

Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Backward Steps
As its political reforms stall, Burma is in danger of regressing. Is the democracy icon fighting back hard enough

The End of AIDS
San Francisco was ground zero for HIV in the U.S. Now it wants to be the first city in the world with no new infections, no stigma—and no deaths.

America’s AIDS Miracle
How the U.S. fought the disease by thinking big and staying smart

Dangerous Cases: Crime and Treatment
Laws designed to compel those with serious mental illness into treatment are gaining traction

Someone I Loved Was Never Born
Miscarriage has long been shrouded in shame and secrecy. That’s changing

Benedict Cumberbatch: Mr. Smart Guy
The Imitation Game actor on Alan Turing, vintage video games and why he’s so good at playing complicated geniuses

Review: The Imitation Game: Dancing With Dr. Strange
Benedict Cumberbatch embodies the isolation of a man with a machine-like mind

The Lady And The Scamp: Angelina Jolie Finds Her Equal
How the actress turned director fell for Louie Zamperini, a gutsy survivor with just the kind of unbelievable story she wanted to tell

Review: Selma and the Dream Worker
Ava DuVernay brings MLK’s 1965 protest marches to the screen

Anna Kendrick: The Tomboy Who Became a Princess
The actress on Into the Woods’ bold Cinderella

American Sniper: When the Hero Dies at the End
Inspired by heroism and tragedy, Bradley Cooper offers a riveting portrayal of a Navy SEAL in American Sniper

In The Interview, Playing the Heavy Gets Dangerous
Randall Park knew his role would be tough, but he didn’t expect death threats

In Top Five, Just a Little Comic Belief
In the dazzlingly funny film, a comedian turned movie star tries to reinvent himself. Will the real Chris Rock please stand up?

Decolor My World (And My House)
To sell our home, we had to stage it. That meant white paint, a screening room and no TV

10 Questions With Melinda Gates
The philanthropist on the importance of contraceptives, her daughters and her growing optimism

Prestige Pics
Movies destined to shine during awards season

Real to Reel
Bringing a true story to the screen takes more than just getting the look right– but this year’s crop of holiday movies are off to a good start

Spectacles
Action and big-budget blockbusters

Family Flicks and Comedy
The lighter side of the holiday movie market

How to Fight Ebola
A CDC doctor on fighting Ebola

Uber’s Ills
Are the car service’s PR woes growing pains or corporate hubris?

Time for Thanks: 2014
Some grateful Americans count their blessings

Milestones

Remembering Peter Kassig, Whose Flame Burns Bright
Nick Schwellenback, who interviewed Kassig for TIME in 2013, remembers his friend days after the former Ranger was allegedly killed by ISIS

Tom Selleck: Glen Larson Was a Giant in Our Industry
The Magnum, P.I. actor remembers the show’s creator

Briefing

World

A Brilliant Mind

For the Future
The best inventions powering technologies of tomorrow

The Future of Computing
Decades ago, Alan Turing predicted machines would likely get smart enough to pass for humans. But these days, artificial intelligence is just one of the technologies shaping the devices of tomorrow

What You Said About …

TIME weather

What Is Lake-Effect Snow? (Hint: It Involves a Lake)

Wintry Weather New York
A band of storm clouds moves across Lake Erie and into Buffalo, N.Y., on Nov. 18, 2014 Gary Wiepert—AP

Why Arctic air, a prevailing wind and a body of water can cause a blizzard

You don’t need a meteorologist to tell you what lake-effect snow is: it’s snow that’s, um, caused by a lake, right? As it turns out, things are a teensy bit more complicated than that, and if you live in one of the states bordering the Great Lakes that are forever getting clobbered by the stuff — or even if you just marvel at the footage of the latest white-out to hit those luckless places — it can help to know what’s actually going on.

Lake-effect snow starts the way so much other winter misery does, with a blast of Arctic air descending on us from the north. Water temperature, even in the Great Lakes in winter, is generally higher than air temperature, since water retains heat longer than air does, and the long, slow warming from the summer months tends to linger. Sometimes the difference in temperature — what’s known as the lapse rate — between the onrushing Arctic air and both the water and the thin layer of local air just above it can be as much as 25ºF (14ºC). That gets things churning in a lot of ways.

For one thing, the air draws moisture from the warmer lake in the same way a hurricane will as it passes over the Gulf of Mexico, gathering in fuel in the form of heat and water. The Great Lakes water warms the Arctic air too, causing it to rise; the act of rising, in turn, causes the air temperature to drop right back down. But that cold air is now carrying more moisture, which condenses into clouds — and those clouds produce snow.

Cold air does not hold as much moisture as warmer air does, which means that lake-effect storms should be heavy but relatively brief. But a lot of things can change that. Air encounters greater friction as it moves over land than it does over water, which causes it to slow down and pile up as the higher-speed air streaming across the lake rear-ends the air that has made landfall, in the same way cars can on a highway collide when the driver in front hits the brake too fast. That intensifies any snowfall.

Elevation can make a difference too. Relatively flat ground adjacent to the lake will have a higher air temperature than hilly land; the colder the air is over those elevated regions, the greater the cloud formation and resulting precipitation.

What’s more, not all Great Lakes are created equal. The distance the Arctic air has to travel over water — what’s known as the fetch — changes depending on how the lakes are oriented. Since cold air moves roughly from the northwest to the east, Lakes Michigan and Huron and part of Superior — which are generally oriented north to south — require less of a watery crossing. Lakes Erie and Ontario and the eastern half of Superior are oriented more east to west, giving cold air more of an opportunity to pick up moisture. The direction of the air also means that cities that lie to the east of a lake get hit harder (we’re looking at you, Buffalo). But even a slight shift in winds means everyone takes the blast (hello, Chicago).

None of this makes a whit of difference when your city gets clobbered by a sudden blizzard. But if you can’t be a true New Yorker or Los Angeleno without knowing just which subway lines or highways to curse, you can’t really be a Midwesterner without understanding why you’re going to spend the next three hours of your life trying to dig your car out of 18 inches of snow.

TIME

An Infant’s Brain Maps Language From Birth, Study Says

Rear view of baby girl
Vladimir Godnik—Getty Images

The infant's brain retains language that it hears at birth and recognizes it years later, even if the child no longer speaks that language.

A new study study reveals that an infant’s brain may remember a language, even if the child has no idea how to speak a word of it.

The finding comes from a new study performed by a team of researchers from McGill University’s Department of Psychology and Montreal’s Neurological Institute who are working to understand how the brain learns language.

As it turns out, the language that an infant hears starting at birth creates neural patterns that the unconscious brain retains years later, even if the child completely stops using the language. The study offers the first neural evidence that traces of so-called “lost” languages remain in the brain.

Because these lost languages commonly occur within the context of international adoptions—when a child is born where one language is spoken and then reared in another country with another language—the researchers recruited test subjects from the international adoption community in Montreal. They studied 48 girls between the ages of nine and 17 years old. One group was born and raised speaking only French. The second group was bilingual, speaking French and Chinese fluently. And the third was Chinese-speaking children who were adopted as infants and later became French speakers, but discontinued exposure to Chinese after the first few years of life. They had no conscious recollection of the Chinese language. “They were essentially monolingual French at this point,” explained Dr. Denise Klein, one of the researchers, in an interview with TIME. “But they had been exposed to the Chinese language during the first year or two of their life.”

The three groups were asked to perform a Chinese tonal task–“It’s simply differentiating a tone,” said Klein. “Everybody can do it equally.” Scans were taken of their brains while they performed the task and the researchers studied the images. The results of the study, published in the November 17 edition of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showed that the brain activation pattern of the adopted Chinese who “lost” or completely discontinued using the language, matched the brain activation patterns for those who continued speaking Chinese since birth—and was completely different from the group of monolingual French speakers.

The researchers interpret this to believe that the neural pathways for the Chinese language could only have been acquired during the first months of life. In layman’s terms, this means that the infant brain developed Chinese language patterns at birth and never forgot them, even though the child no longer speaks or understands the language.

“We looked at language that was abruptly cut off, so we could see what happens developmentally in that early period,” said Klein. “The sound of languages are acquired relatively early in life, usually within the first year. We’ve learned through a lot of seminal work that is out there that children start out as global citizens who turn their heads equally to all sounds and only later start to edit and become experts in the languages that they’re regularly exposed to.” The question for the researchers was whether the brains of the Chinese-born children who no longer spoke their native language would react like a French speaker or like a bilingual group.

To see what neural pathways might still exist in a brain and to see what a brain might remember of the mother tongue, the researchers used Chinese language tones, which infants in China would have been exposed to before coming to live in French-speaking Montreal. “If you have never been exposed to Chinese, you would just process the tones as ‘sounds,'” said Klein. However, if someone had been previously exposed to Chinese, like the bilingual Chinese-French speakers, they would process the tone linguistically, using neural pathways in the language-processing hemisphere of their brain, not just the sound-processing ones. Even though they could have completed the task without activating the language hemisphere of their brain, their brains simply couldn’t suppress the fact that the sound was a language that they recognized. Even though they did not speak or understand the language, their brains still processed it as such.

The results were that the brain patterns of the Chinese-born children who had “lost” their native tongue looked like the brains of the bilingual group, and almost nothing like the monolingual French group. This was true, even though the children didn’t actually speak any Chinese. “These templates are maintained in the brain, even though they no longer have any knowledge of Chinese,” said Klein, who was not surprised that these elements remained in the brain.

As with most scientific research, this finding opens the door to even more questions, particularly as to whether children exposed to a language early on in life, even if they don’t use the language, will have an easier time learning that language later in life. Don’t go rushing to Baby Einstein quite yet, though. “We haven’t tested whether children who are exposed to language early, re-learn the language more easily later,” said Dr. Klein, “But it is what we predict.”

What the study does suggest though is the importance of this early phase of language exposure. “What the study points out is how quite surprisingly early this all takes place,” said Klein. “There has been a lot of debate about what the optimal period for the development of language and lots of people argued for around the ages of 4 or 5 as one period, then around age 7 as another and then around adolescence as another critical period. This really highlights the importance of the first year from a neural perspective.”

“Everything about language processing follows on the early ability to do these phonological discriminations,” said Klein. “You become better readers if you do these things.”

While Klein isn’t an expert in the field of language acquisition, she does surmise that the more languages you are exposed to the better for neural pathway development, but she hasn’t fully tested that hypothesis. She mentioned other studies that show that early exposure to multiple languages can lead to more lingual “flexibility” down the road. Before you clean out Berlitz and build a Thai-Kurdish-German-Mandarin language playlist for your infant, Klein doesn’t recommend loading kids up with “thousands of languages.” She explains: “I don’t think bombarding somebody with multiple languages necessarily improves or changes anything.” Klein thought ensuring future lingual flexibility could come from exposure to just two or three languages at an early age.

To that end, Klein does think it’s important to develop these neural templates early in life, which she considers similar to wiring a room—put in the plugs, ports and outlets first and if you need to add a light later, you won’t have to start from scratch. Luckily there are no products required to develop a language template in the brain: simply talking to your baby in your native tongue is enough to develop those all-important neural pathways. If you want to invest in Baby Berlitz, well, the studies aren’t in yet, but it can’t hurt.

TIME Research

How to Survive a Spaceship Disaster

sky
Getty Images

One of the most dangerous parts of an astronaut’s journey is the very beginning

WSF logo small

Falling from ten miles up, with no spacesuit on, in air that’s 70 degrees below zero and so thin you can hardly draw breath…Conditions were not ideal for Peter Siebold, a test pilot flying on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, to survive. But he did. Siebold told investigators that he was thrown from the plane as it broke up, and unbuckled from his seat at some point before his parachute deployed automatically. It’s unclear at this point why the same thing didn’t happen for his copilot, Michael Alsbury.

Now, as spaceflight goes commercial, the destruction of both Spaceship Two and the Antares unmanned rocket is likely to bring the eyes of federal regulators back towards an industry that has until now enjoyed minimal red tape. The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, first passed by Congress in 2004, was designed to encourage innovation by keeping the rules not so stringent for the fledgling private space industry. But “the moratorium [was designed to] be in place until a certain date or the event of the first death,” Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Space Law, told the MIT Technology Review. “Unfortunately, the first death has now occurred, and the FAA will likely revisit the need for regulations, if any.”

A Virgin Galactic spokesperson said in an email that the company couldn’t comment too broadly about the escape mechanisms for its spacecraft, due to the pending investigation. The spokesperson did confirm there are two exits from the cabin, but said that “specific design elements of the passenger cabin and spacesuits are still being developed and have not been made public.”

Since the earliest days of the space program, researchers have tried to develop realistic ways to provide astronauts with an emergency exit. But in an emerging field of such complexity, what mechanisms are plausible…and practical? Here’s a brief history of the effort so far.

Condition One: Failure To Launch

One of the most dangerous parts of an astronaut’s journey is the very beginning. To maximize the chance of survival during a launch, most spacecraft from the Mercury project onwards have incorporated a launch escape system (LES), which can carry the module containing the human crew away from a sudden threat to the rest of the craft—either while still on the launch pad, or during the initial ascent.

The Apollo LES was powered by a solid fuel rocket. At the first sign of trouble (transmitted by the loss of signal from wires attached to the launch vehicle), the LES would fire automatically, steering the command module up and away from danger, then jettison and allow the module to open its parachute and land. A similar principle lies behind the launch escape mechanisms used for Russia’s Soyuz capsules and the Shenzhou capsule used by the Chinese space program. The Orion spacecraft, NASA’s next generation of manned craft in development, also features an LES mounted on top of the craft, called a Launch Abort System.

On the private industry side of LESs, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule incorporates the rocket motors of the escape mechanism into the sides of the capsule itself, instead of mounting the LES on top. Since the LES isn’t discarded after launch, this “pusher” method provides the capsule with emergency escape capability throughout the entire flight—something the Space Shuttle and Apollo crafts never had, the company notes. (The drawback is that, if unused, all that fuel for the escape system is extra weight to carry around). Testing Dragon’s abort system both on the launch pad and in flight is something SpaceX expects to have done by January.

Using one of these devices is no picnic. Orion’s LAS was estimated to put about 15.5 Gs of force on an astronaut—more than a fighter pilot experiences, but a little alleviated by the fact that the astronauts are lying on their backs. “They’ll feel the effects,” Orion’s launch abort systems director Roger McNamara told Space.com, but “the bottom line is they’ll be walking away.”

Condition Two: Disaster In Orbit

In the 1960s, General Electric tested an emergency inflatable device called MOOSE (Manned Orbital Operations Safety Equipment, but originally Man Out Of Space Easiest) that was basically a small rocket motor attached to a six-foot-long polyester bag equipped with a heat shield, life support system, radio equipment and parachute. After a space-suited astronaut exited his or her space vehicle and climbed into the bag, he or she would activate pressurized canisters that filled it up with polyurethane foam.

More recently, NASA explored a new escape pod design called the X-38, a 7-person lifeboat designed to provide an escape route for astronauts on the International Space Station (say in case the Soyuz space capsule were damaged, or made unavailable because of political infighting, or hijacked by Sandra Bullock). This design made it as far as test flights, but was scrapped in 2002 over budget concerns.

Condition Three: Extraterrestrial Rescue

What if a disaster trapped astronauts on the moon? To prepare for that contingency, NASA worked on designs for unmanned Gemini Lunar Rescue Vehicles that could scoop up a marooned crew of two or three astronauts from the lunar surface, or from orbit around the moon. But funding cutbacks during the Apollo program prevented the agency from fully exploring these designs.

Condition Four: Trouble With The Landing

NASA’s space shuttles had an inflight escape system to be used only when the orbiter could not land properly after reentering orbit, which used a pole that extended out from one of the side hatches. The astronauts would hook themselves to the pole with a Kevlar strap and then jump out, allowing the pole to guide them out and underneath the left wing of the spacecraft. However, for this exit system to work, the space shuttle would have to be in pretty good shape, capable of staying in controlled, gliding flight. You can see the pole being used in this test footage here:

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

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