Could SpaceX mini-sub serve as space escape pod?

SpaceX mini-sub
An underwater rescue pod fashioned from a SpaceX Falcon 9 liquid-oxygen transfer tube undergoes testing in a California swimming pool. (Elon Musk via Twitter)

The mini-submarine created by SpaceX engineers may not play a role in the crisis it was designed for — the Thai cave rescue drama that’s now speeding to a resolution — but it could be a lifesaver for future space missions.

“With some mods, this could also work as an escape pod in space,” SpaceX’s billionaire CEO, Elon Musk, said today in a series of tweets sharing the team’s progress.

Last week, Musk’s Twitter followers asked him what he could do to help the team in Thailand that’s working to extract 12 young soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave.

After considering a “bouncy castle” air tube that the kids might be able to wriggle through to safety, Musk and his team settled on the idea of building a kid-sized submarine, equipped with external air tanks. A foot-wide liquid oxygen transfer tube, originally built for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, would serve as the hull.

The contraption went through dive-pool tests at Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles and was sent on a 17-hour flight to Thailand.

Meanwhile, the rescue team at the Tham Luang cave complex decided that the situation was too dire to wait any longer. Over the weekend, a team of expert divers began escorting the kids out of the cave. At times, the boys had to be hooked up with full-face oxygen masks as they swam through water filling the narrow, pitch-black cave channels.

The crisis could be resolved without having to resort to SpaceX’s mini-sub, and without further fatalities, which everyone agrees would be good news.

But in today’s tweets, Musk made clear that he wouldn’t consider the effort wasted even if it doesn’t come into play in the flooded Thai cave. The concept could come in handy for future underwater rescues on Earth, or rescues in the vacuum of space.

In any case, it’s instructive to see how the crowdsourced engineering exercise unfolded over the course of just a couple of days. That’s why we’re passing along this long string of tweets documenting the creation and testing of the mini-sub.

Get all the tweets on GeekWire.


Elon Musk sends engineers to aid Thai cave rescue

Rescuers in Thailand
Rescuers work on their equipment inside a Thai cave complex where a dozen boys and their soccer coach are trapped. (National News Bureau of Thailand)

Billionaire techie Elon Musk is sending a team of engineers from SpaceX and the Boring Company to help with the increasingly desperate effort to rescue a dozen boys and their soccer coach from a waterlogged cave in Thailand.

The soccer team became trapped in the Tham Luang cave complex nearly two weeks ago when floods from a sudden downpour hemmed them in. Divers were able to reach the boys on July 2, perched on a rock slab above the water level. But on July 5, one of the volunteer rescuers died during an hours-long dive to deliver oxygen to the group.

One of Musk’s fans tweeted out a plea this week for Musk to pitch in. Musk agreed to put on his thinking cap, and eventually to do more than think about it. James Yenbamroong, the founder of Thailand’s mu Space satellite startup, facilitated contacts with the Thai government.

Find out how the tweets flew on GeekWire.