Space travel is hazardous and captious– that’s why they call it rocket science, baby. So it’s best to plan for all contingencies, such as providing crews and astronauts with places to hide if something goes wrong with the several thousand tons of propellant sitting on top of the ignition source. Enter, The Rubber Room.
NASA has built two rubber rooms deep below the two launch pads at the Launch Pad 39 complex on Merritt Island, Florida. Anyone interested in space exploration has probably seen the towering structures next to rockets before they launch. Launchpad 39a is the site Apollo 11 mission launched. But 12 meters below the towering rockets, accompanying buildings and incredibly large vehicles NASA built a network of tunnels and bunkers beneath the launch pads designed to give workers a place to go in the event of the unthinkable: a Saturn V explosion on the ground.
No one would survive a sudden explosion now—a fully charged Saturn V could release about half a kiloton of energy, or 1/26 of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to Space Review—but if it was time to respond, NASA had a built-in process to get people to safety quickly and efficiently.
And the journey to safety began with a nine-story toboggan completely in the dark.
That is, unless you were an astronaut. Then for you, the escape began even further in the air from the high-speed elevator, which is able to throw the crew of the spacecraft down from the capsule to the mobile launch pad in just 30 seconds. Journal of Space Security. The chute extended from the mobile launch pad into the bowels of the launch pad. The crew members then shot down a very narrow, very steep, 60 meter long rubber tunnel, all sprayed with water to make sure the crew would shoot down this crazy slide and faster.
The escape room staff set out on the rubber table, which occasionally overflowed with water and sent people jumping to the back wall. After this fun experience, NASA employees rushed through the bulletproof doors and into the Rubber Room, so named because everything was covered in rubber. With the outer hatches neatly sealed behind them to prevent death by a sonic boom, they all strapped into one of the 20 chairs in the room. With a sprung floor, the domed Rubber Room could withstand an incredible amount of force, reducing the pressure of 75 Gs to a much more survivable 4 Gs.
It was assumed that the crew would be able to leave the bunker quickly after the disaster, but just in case, the bunker was equipped with rations, water and even a toilet. If both escape routes were blocked or destroyed, NASA also arranged for an escape hatch to be installed at the top of the Rubber Room.
Fortunately, the rubber room was never needed and no Saturn V ever exploded on the launch pad. Launchpad 39a is now abandoned, as are the labyrinthine tunnels beneath its massive structure. If NASA ever opens it up to the public, I’ll be the first in line to ride down the rubber slide of doom.