NASA has received a new employee: a dragon! His name is Firewing and he's there to help NASA with its missions. He's not an astronaut himself, mainly because of the logistical issues of launching a dragon into space (and because NASA knows that if they did that they might as well close up shop because nothing they could do would be more awesome than launching a dragon into space). He's also not some genius scientist so he won't be squeezing himself into the LCC to oversee launches or crunching numbers somewhere else at the KSC. Instead, Firewing's going to use his superior physical abilities to help NASA. He's got the following abilities:

  • He's about as big as Smaug.
  • He can fly as fast as the Space Shuttle and can keep this up for quite a while.
  • His flight ceiling is 37,000 ft, the equivalent of Rüppell's vulture.
  • He's capable of carrying the equivalent of a fully loaded (fueled + cargo, though not with any ETs) Space Shuttle without a loss of speed. Any higher cargo load will dramatically influence his speed.
  • He can grab onto spacecraft without damaging them and knows how to catch something that's falling without having it rip in half due to the forces involved. Meanwhile, he's capable of picking up people without the threat of accidentally crushing them.
  • He can be exposed to the heat, light and gas emissions from any engine without suffering any negative effects (though he'd rather not have physical contact with any of those for a prolonged amount of time).
  • NASA developed a communication device that fits over his head which allows two-way communication between him and the LCC (or whatever the device's dialed to).
  • He understands the briefings that NASA give him and the directions he receives mid-mission. Additionally, he's intelligent enough to improvise on the fly in case things go wrong.
  • His fire is about as hot and long as the flame from a Space Shuttle External Tank. Note that this does not generate backwards thrust.
  • His diet and accommodations are taken care of.

Note that Firewing would be willing to help with testing things and running trials instead of actual space missions, but he is very much opposed to serving as a guinea pig with tests run on him and would rather not serve PR purposes (but filming him while he's working is fine).

As you can see, Firewing is not capable of launching a Space Shuttle (or its equivalent) on his own, but he might be able to do other things. What kind of jobs would be be best suited for?

  • $\begingroup$ I read that 4th sentence and immediately thought "Well, NASA doesn't want anyone in the KSC. The most hated sentence is, after all, [But it worked in Kerbal Space Program]". Then I realized there is another KSC. $\endgroup$ – J_F_B_M Feb 15 '16 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ Close-voters: Please don't vote to close without leaving commentary. Also, I fail to see how this is off-topic when similar questions aren't. For example: How would a dragon be used in a modern military? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 15 '16 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ I just voted and in my opinion the close-reason speaks for itself. Idea-Generation is (according to the meta-post) a close reason. Due to character limit I will not repeat it, but view the link above. The other question is in my eyes an idea-generation as well. The community decided it to be a valid question however, and who am I to stand against it. Please be assured that I see it as well as a fine line. A lot of my questions disqualify before my inner judge because I'd ask others to do my thinking work. I'm open to a change, but as it stands that is how I read the rules. $\endgroup$ – J_F_B_M Feb 15 '16 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ @J_F_B_M Every question on here "generates ideas" in some fashion or another. However, what I would be faster to vote against would be How could a dragon be useful to humans? This is far and beyond better than such a question. It has a) A metric for success - Jobs/fields unique to the space program where productivity is maximised by a dragon b) A root in worldbuilding - a world where dragons are aids to sky and space farers. In my opinion, a question shouldn't be voted against just because it didn't manage to become hot like another question of a very similar vein. $\endgroup$ – The Anathema Feb 15 '16 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @TheAnathema I'm currently fighting with myself whether to close-vote the other one. Despite from that, the line I draw for myself is between "I had idea X, does it work?" and "I had idea X, how is it useful?". To my thinking, this question falls in the second category. I'm open to discuss this further with you in a chat-room if you wish too (of course anyone else as well). $\endgroup$ – J_F_B_M Feb 15 '16 at 17:52

Firewing could be useful for NASA with assisted rocket launches. Even just lifting the space shuttle a few miles off the surface of the planet could be useful to decrease the cost of the launch:

Fortunately, due to the exponential nature of the rocket equation, providing even a small amount of the velocity to LEO by other means has the potential of greatly reducing the cost of getting to orbit.

See this article.

  • $\begingroup$ This answer has a lot of potential of expansion but I'm going to suggest that the calculation of all sorts of trajectory and other measurements will be vastly offset by a mid-air launch. Man it would look cool though. $\endgroup$ – Jack.Ramsden Feb 15 '16 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ I love this. We don't need the Roc; we've got a dragon! $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Feb 15 '16 at 16:06

Splashdown recovery!

Currently, NASA does not have any manned spacecraft in use (astronauts use the Russia Soyuz capsules). However, in the past, NASA capsules used a splashdown landing in the ocean. A helicopter would come to bring back the astronauts (and then the capsule) to an aircraft carrier dispatched for the purpose.

The method has also been used by unmanned spacecraft, and will be used in the future. I therefore propose using Firewing as a recovery tool. It seems like he can fly long distances, so unlike the helicopters, range may not be an issue. Perhaps an aircraft carrier is completely unnecessary. This then greatly reduces the cost of splashdown recovery.

Also, riding back in a capsule in a dragon's claws is pretty stylish, and reminiscent of Frodo and Sam being rescued by the Eagles from Mount Doom. . .


Firewing would be great for training. Instead of expensive machines like planes and manpower, Firewing would be able to take the astronauts high enough for them to experience whatever they need to experience to be qualified as astronauts (I am not an expert in that field, but with some research you should find out the specific training program a where a dragon could substitute expensive machinery).

Then: machinery testing. Many spaceship parts should be tried for heat resistance and flamability, like the engines. Firewing would be a great for that job. He could also help with heavy transportations.

Lastly, he could provide some sort of security help during the launches. He couldn't jettison the shuttles into space, but he might fly alongside it and should anything go wrong stabilize the trajectory, or influence the speed, or worse case scenario catch it and bring it back to Earth. Safety measures.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe you mean free fall plane ride in first paragraph. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Feb 15 '16 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ Might very well be $\endgroup$ – L.R. Feb 15 '16 at 16:27

There are several things NASA could do with Firewing!

1. A project similiar to the Grasshopper(SpaceX) would be easier to achieve. With less precise Calculations and testing necessary since all they would need to achieve on their own would be getting the rocket safely beneath his flight ceiling and he could just catch it and bring down to the ground without damage.

2. Maybe Firewing could also serve as a source of propellant? You did not specify how his flame breath works, so we can just assume his body naturally produces rocket fuel and ignites it in his throat/mouth. With a bit of training he could expel the fuel without igniting it.

3. As stated in other answers as well, Firewing could be used to fly next to any starting rocket acting as a fail-safe if there are complications he could solve them on his own by acting fast if they are no brainers or wait for instructions from LCC.

  • $\begingroup$ would be nice to know why the downvote. Things can always be improved but only if someone gets input what should be improved... $\endgroup$ – vanillagod Feb 16 '16 at 8:00

We all know the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and we know that the astronauts within the space shuttle have survived the explosion, but the violent impact with the sea surface has caused their deaths, so if a well trained huge dragon like Firewing was there, he would certainly flew up and saved those poor astronauts.

several crew members are known to have survived the initial breakup of the spacecraft. The shuttle had no escape system, and the impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface was too violent to be survivable.

  • $\begingroup$ Three minor things: 1) Breakup of the shuttle occurred at ~48,000 feet and the crew cabin eventually reached ~65,000 feet meaning that it would have been moving quite fast when it dropped below Firewing's flight ceiling. 2) Unless Firewing matched the capsule's velocity and acceleration, the deceleration of the capsule could have crushed the astronauts if he wasn't careful. 3) Finding the capsule amid all the debris would have been tough. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Feb 15 '16 at 15:48

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