Space travel is dangerous and difficult– that’s why they call it rocket science, baby. So it’s best to plan for all eventualities, such as giving crews and astronauts places to hide in case something goes wrong with the several thousand tons of propellant sitting on top of an ignition source. Enter, the Rubber Room.
NASA built two rubber chambers deep beneath 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 are launched. Launch Pad 39a is where The Apollo 11 mission was 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 Earth.
Now, no one is going to survive a sudden explosion—a fully fueled Saturn V could unleash about half a kiloton of force, or 1/26 of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to Room review—but if there was time to react, NASA had a built-in process to get people to safety quickly and efficiently.
And the road to safety started with a nine-story water slide in complete darkness.
Unless you were an astronaut. So the flight for you started even further in the air from a high-speed elevator capable of plunging the spacecraft’s crew down from the capsule and into the mobile launch pad in just 30 seconds, according to Space Safety Magazine. The slide extended from the mobile launch platform into the bowels of the launch pad. Crew members would then shoot down a very narrow, very steep, 60 meter long rubber tunnel, all sprayed with water to ensure the crew themselves shot down this crazy slide faster.
The employees from the fleeing seats splashed out onto a rubber table that would occasionally overflow with water and send people scrambling into the back wall. After the fun experience, NASA employees rushed through blast-proof doors and into the rubber room, so called because everything was covered in rubber. With exterior hatches neatly sealed behind them to prevent death by a sonic boom, they all buckled into one of 20 chairs in a room. Thanks to a spring-loaded floor, the domed rubber compartment could withstand incredible amounts of force, reducing 75 Gs of pressure to a much more survivable 4 Gs.
The assumption was that the crew would be able to quickly leave the bunker after a disaster, but just in case, the bunker was equipped with rations, water and even a toilet. Should the two escape routes be blocked or destroyed, NASA also made sure to install an escape hatch at the top of the Rubber Room.
Fortunately, the rubber compartment was never needed and no Saturn V ever exploded while on the launch pad. Launch Pad 39a is now abandoned, as are the labyrinthine tunnels beneath its vast structure. If NASA ever opens it up to the public, I’ll be the first in line to shoot down the rubber waterslide of doom.