Crew members were to climb into the ball, assume a fetal position, and be zipped inside by a space suited crew member.
Before the Challenger disaster, shuttle crews wore no space suits. This presented the problem of how to move them from one shuttle to another - if - it was possible to launch a rescue mission before the supplies aboard the stranded shuttle ran out.
To address this problem, Johnson Spaceflight Center devised the most minimal spacecraft of all time - the Personal Rescue Enclosure (PRE) Rescue Ball. The rescue ball was an 86 cm diameter high-tech beach ball with three layers: urethane inner enclosure, Kevlar middle layer, and a white outer thermal protective cover. Crew members were to climb into the ball, assume a fetal position, and be zipped inside by a space suited crew member. They donned an oxygen mask and cradled in their arms a carbon dioxide scrubber/oxygen supply box with one hour worth of oxygen. The ball would be connected by an umbilical to the shuttle to supply air until the airlock depressurized. The crew member would then be floated over to the rescue shuttle by the suited astronaut. The process would be repeated until the entire crew was moved from one spacecraft to another.
A tiny window was provided to prevent total sensory deprivation. It was said that when they were in use, astronaut candidates would be asked to get in one. After fifteen minutes or so, the candidate was asked how long they thought they had been in. If the candidate was not hysterical and guessed anything under an hour, they passed! The space ball was much touted and appeared in all kinds of kids' books about the shuttle before the Challenger explosion. Little has been heard of it since...
Crew Size: 1. Habitable Volume: 0.33 m3.
AKA: Personal Rescue Enclosure; PRE.
Height: 0.86 m (2.82 ft).
Span: 0.86 m (2.82 ft).