I need a way for a NASA spaceship to be able to dock with the hatch of an alien spacecraft. The alien ship is automated so there's no communication, and being alien, the hatches on both ships should be a total mismatch. Does anyone know of a "universal" hatch, or someway of connecting an airtight tube or conduit between two ships in space so I can get astronauts on board the alien ship?
An air tight tube should work. They will need some way to attach it alien ship, but as long as there is an opening to get in, they can put clamps on its edges, and tie the tube to these clamps.
But the bigger issue that there is no air in the alien ship, or their air is no good for us humans. We could pump our air into the alien ship, but it could mess up their systems (oxygen is quite corrosive to many substances). In fact, if alien ship is robotic, there is no reason to make it air-tight.
In addition, alien ship might have radiation or toxins. So your astronauts will still have to wear suits inside the ship, so no need for an airtight tube leading to it. A couple guide cables across space will do.
And if the alien ship just happens to have perfect environment for humans, it looks too much like a trap, imho :)
Imagine the NASA ship was designed to dock with emergency hatches on a wide variety of craft. This kind of connection would be much less rigid than the dock between an Apollo Command Module and the lander, or between the ISS and a transport capsule -- those connections would hold if one of the ships fires engines to adjust the course. It is merely good enough to evacuate injured people who cannot possibly be stuffed into a space suit.
- The rim of the docking tube is flexible to adjust to curved hulls.
- It has a glue/sealant to make the connection pressure-tight. Perhaps the outermost ring will be discarded on undocking.
The short answer is: They wouldn't dock with it. At all. Ever!. Well... maybe not never, but not any time soon.
Here's the reasoning:
We have an alien ship. We suspect that it is automated, but by what? We don't know where it was made, by whom, how, or with what (other than what we can see from the outside). One species' automation may be another species biotech, after all.
Since we don't know the origin or construction of the ship, we must consider it to be a biohazard. To allow anything human-made to come into contact with the ship or its contents and then return is very risky, even after decontamination.
We don't know what effect humans or human technology would have on the alien ship or its contents - it may be negligible or it may be catastrophic, and since the ship represents an irreplaceable source of knowledge, extreme care will be taken in investigating it.
Until we know a whole lot about the construction of the ship and everything that is on or inside it, no human will be going anywhere near it. In fact, no human-made object will be going anywhere near it and coming back afterwards either.
So, any analysis of the alien ship will be conducted using sacrificial remotes and equipment, carefully constructed to be as neutral as possible, and rigorously decontaminated before being sent. These instruments and tools will be sent across to the alien ship through the vacuum of space. Ideally, the hull will be investigated first, and once the airlock is opened (assuming that it is actually an airlock and not just a door designed to be opened in an atmosphere) with a protective membrane across it to catch any potential ejecta and prevent any atmosphere loss, the airlock interior will be investigated in detail and new remotes prepared to take the next step in the investigation.
Once any piece of equipment has made contact with the alien ship, it will not be brought back, under any circumstances, unless a comprehensive molecular-level analysis of the ship has taken place first - and that could be expected to take years to centuries.
Likewise, any personnel working on the project will be people known to and employed by - or at least contracting to - NASA for a long time. They will not be "experts" recruited especially for the mission but never having worked with NASA before - they will be people known to many NASA ground staff. Before going on the mission, they will be given full health workups including comprehensive psychological profiling.
So, once on the mission - directing the remotes from yet another spaceship, the crew would be in contact with the ground via one set of computers and transmitters, while using an entirely separate, air-gapped set of computers and transmitters to control the remotes and gather data. The two sets of computers would be designed to be unable to communicate with one-another ordinarily, and would also be set up so that if a data connection was made between the two, they would both immediately self-destruct, along with the whole spaceship. The reasoning behind this is that the alien ship builders may be attempting a colonization by stealth. By creating an air gap that the crew it told to never close under any circumstances, our world is safeguarded against any direct transmission of a virus. Of course, the crew may be subverted, hence the initial and frequent psychological testing, but that is not infallible, and a crew member may disobey orders for whatever reason and connect the computers together. To handle such an occurrence, the Earth-communication computers would be looking for any connection to the remote control computers, and the instant such was detected, it would, for example, simply close relay #525, which would be the trigger for the detonation of enough explosives to destroy both computers, kill all astronauts on board and disintegrate the ship.
While on the mission, the mission crew would have their psychological states assessed on a daily basis at a minimum, and would make any reports verbally or via manual keyboard entry on the ground-communicating computers. Any significant deviation from the expected psychological profile could lead to the person so affected being recalled and quarantined immediately at best, or the research ship being destroyed immediately at worst.
It is only after a very long period of getting to understand the alien ship and its exact composition would any attempt be made to dock with it, at which point a docking coupling would have been made to fit.
If this seems a bit paranoid, that would be correct. Any missteps could cause the extinction or subjugation of the entire world. Numerous Hollywood movies have examined the consequences of ill-advised contact with aliens, and while some are a bit unrealistic, the message that comes across is that any real first contact must be handled with the utmost caution, and that any risk whatsoever could have catastrophic consequences, and therefore must be mitigated as far as possible. The security personnel for such a mission must refuse every risk, no matter how minor it seems. They must be constantly thinking about how an enemy who knows our systems, technologies and procedures could subvert them for their own gain. The likelihood is that this is ridiculously paranoid, but if it is not..
Also consider... After the first moon landing, the astronauts were quarantined for a period of 21 days, this after contact with an extra-earth body that has been in close proximity to earth for billions of years, and was thought to be lifeless.
You have already selected an answer, but here goes anyway.
This is a common theme in many space operas about warring factions, requiring boarding parties to the alien craft.
Why go through the hatch? Why not make your own?
Consider: an adapter that has a hatch suitable to your own ship, and on the other end, a flexible seal that attaches to the hull of the other ship. The adapter is attached to the other ship (maybe even cutting off the existing hatch), and when the seal is made, breaching the hull of the other ship. There is no need for the NASA ship to be even close during this operation. It could even be done by remote control. The other end of the adapter, with the hatch that matches your hatch, could be sealed when the hole is breached, maintaining any atmosphere integrity.
Once the adapter is connected, then your own NASA ships can dock and leave at will.
The adapter, of course, could be as roomy as you needed. It could have appropriate sensors to measure atmosphere, toxicity, radiation, and whatever before the NASA ship even docks. It could also incorporate its own air lock, to transition between two environments.
I would assume that the best way to do it is to not really go in at all and use probing tools to examine what is going on inside. An automated ship I assume is mechanical and electronic, my assumption is that you could probably 'scan' the ship from the outside and learn what they are up too before you ever even enter.
There is likely no logical reason to enter the ship beyond cool factor.
If you do still really need to enter, send in an automated drone through any of their entrances, one that doesn't need anything beyond its own battery pack, and be accustomed to the internals of the ship whatever it may be. That's something that could be done with even current technology.
If you really need to get the astronauts on there for plot purposes, maybe skip the docking all together and have the ship just land on top of the alien ship and the astronauts explore its surface until they can find a way in through their hatch using suits with ideally high resource carrying capacity so they can explore the ship in their suits.