The 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing is rapidly approaching, and uber space-nerd Adam Savage is in the thick of the celebration of all the amazing feats of engineering that made humanity’s first steps out of the cradle possible. And in a grand and very hacker-friendly style, we might add, as his Project Egress aims to build a full-scale replica of the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia’s hatch.
A Hatch to be Reckoned With
A hatch might seem like an odd artifact to recreate, but considering its complexity, it’s the perfect target for such an effort. The hatch that Project Egress will be building is from Block II CMs, which was completely redesigned in response to the tragedy of Apollo 1. The fire that killed Guss Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee inside their Block I capsule was inescapable due to the design of the hatch, a two-piece plug that opened inward and was pushed firmly into its seals by the pressure difference between the capsule interior and atmospheric pressure. The three crew members never had a chance once the fire started, accelerated as it was by the pure oxygen atmosphere of the capsule.
The Block II hatch, dubbed the “Unified Crew Hatch” or UCH, was designed with crew safety in mind. The design requirements stated that the hatch must be able to be opened by the crew within 3 seconds, and allow for complete crew egress in 30 seconds. They also wanted the hatch to open to a wider angle, and for it to be able to prop open for extended extravehicular activity. That last requirement added a lot of complexity, because making sure that the hatch latches securely again for re-entry is critical. Consequently, a backup latching mechanism had to be included in the UCH design.
To satisfy those requirements, the Block II UCH became a 225 pound (102 kg) beast. It had fifteen latches that could be simultaneously retracted with a few strokes of a handle on a hydraulic pump, or by use of the backup system. The UCH also had vents for rapidly equalizing cabin pressure to the ambient pressure, a special mechanism to open the outer boost cover hatch until it was jettisoned along with the escape tower, beefy hinges to keep the hatch propped open securely, and a gas spring counterbalance system to assist opening and keep the hinges from overextending. The Block II UCH was flown on all the manned missions and performed flawlessly.
This Way to the Egress
All this makes the UCH a great artifact to recreate, but it means that Project Egress is far too big a job for one person. To spread the work around and make the build more interesting, Adam has enlisted over 40 well-known makers and hackers and assigned them all a specific part to recreate. The list reads like a who’s who of the maker movement: Jimmy Diresta, This Old Tony, John Saunders at NYC CNC, Fran Blanche from FranLab, and our own Quinn Dunki, also known as BlondiHacks. The list includes DIYers, prop makers, cosplayers, 3D-printing nerds – the entire spectrum of maker genres is represented.
Here’s the really interesting part: each maker will choose the medium for their part. Some will work in metal, some in wood, and there will no doubt be 3D-printed parts too. Pretty much every method and material in the hacker armamentarium will come to bear, and the parts will be a mish-mash of everything that makes what we do every day so powerful and so much fun.
The culmination of Project Egress happens on July 18th when Adam will take the collection of parts to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and assemble them in front of a live audience. It’s not clear if there will be a live stream of the event, but it would be a crying shame if there isn’t. If you’re in the DC area, it’d certainly be worth dropping by.
We really like the sound of this event, and we can’t wait to see the builds that come out of it. Both Fran Blanche and Quinn Dunki have already posted their builds; Fran did videos on the design and build of one of the latch assemblies, rendered in wood, while Quinn machined a latch tie rod from aluminum.
Project Egress looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun, and hats off to Adam for coordinating it – and for giving up his annual trip to San Diego Comic Con in favor of the live build – and to all the hackers he has roped into the project. We’ll keep track of progress along the way, and hopefully be able to report on the big reveal at the end.
[Featured images: National Air and Space Museum]