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I'm thinking about something like this: Suppose you really wanted to get into orbit and didn't care about getting back down / staying alive up there. You sneak into a launch facility at night, push some kind of button in a bunker somewhere, and run like crazy to get into the capsule. You then get blasted into orbit.

Is there any rocket configuration that has been used that would allow you to do this? The main requirements would be, as far as I can tell:

  • There must be some kind of master control which would initiate the launch sequence,
  • It must be physically possible to be in the rocket by the time it lifted off,
  • The rocket must not need any kind of ground tracking to be operational.

Note that the only requirement for you is that you make it to orbit in one piece, and could survive there for a substantial (>30 minutes) period of time. Also, let's say you don't have time to make any major adjustments to the systems.

Is there any configuration used in the past for a mission that could conceivably allow this?

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  • $\begingroup$ This question seems a bit far on the SciFi/fantasy side to be practical. $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Sep 24 '13 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ @JamesJenkins Not entirely unrealistic, though it has a fanciful description. There were manned space vessels designed to be piloted solo, and it isn't too much of a stretch to imagine a solo launch (though dangerous). $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Sep 24 '13 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage, It would require a fueled vehicle left essentially unsupervised at a launch tower. The plot shows up in SciFi occasionally but that event is still in our future. $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Sep 24 '13 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget to request permission to Range Safety if you use a US launch vehicle. You will be disintegrated rather quickly if you forgot. $\endgroup$ – mins Dec 21 '14 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ @mins: You can just pull the plug on the range safety. They're not designed to resist tampering at all. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Dec 7 '16 at 19:00
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There surely isn't anything that meets the two criteria, namely:

  1. Can launch with a very small crew.
  2. Can survive for 30 minutes.

The only vehicles which can make it to space on short notice are ballistic missiles. Aside from the fact that they are in very secure locations, they have no capacity to take a payload other than the default one.

Your best bet would be to sneak into an ISS resupply mission somehow, before it launches. That might be possible, although it might throw off the expected mass and thus rocket performance slightly. You won't launch yourself without any kind of guidance, but it would work.

Basically, this is a problem because most orbital spacecraft are liquid fueled, and virtually all of those are fueled right before launch. That would require a lot of attention to get it right.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sneakign onto KSC or the Baikonur Cosmodrome is a great way to go to jail, for the rest of your life. $\endgroup$ – Eric Urban May 21 '16 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ @EricUrban and I would question how long that ends up being O.o $\endgroup$ – Baldrickk Jul 27 '17 at 10:27
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I thought everything that could carry people to orbit used cryogenic propellants. Those can't be stored on board, the rocket must be fueled just before launch. I have been corrected, the Gemini missions were based off a modified missile and used nasty chemicals instead. There haven't been any Gemini birds around for quite some time, though, and anything modern uses cryogenic stuff because it gives your energy. Thus the only time a rocket is flyable is just before it's flown. Thus you can't just make off with a space rocket.

Your only hope of getting to space is to stow away on something already heading there. The Russians had the supplies out of one of their Progress rockets stolen so it might be possible to slip into one.

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    $\begingroup$ The Titan booster for the Gemini orbital missions didn't use cryogenic propellants. It used hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. These storable propellants were chosen for the Titan ballistic missile role, of course. There are many non-crewed payloads launched into orbit by Titan vehicles as well. Although my knowledge of Russian vehicles is limited, I believe the Russian Proton booster uses similar storable propellants. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Jul 25 '17 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I knew some missile propellants were used for the early suborbital stuff I didn't realize they had ever been used for orbit. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Jul 25 '17 at 20:46

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