NASA today tossed into a pool a mock-up of their Orion spacecraft with two crash-test dummies sitting inside to simulate a return-to-Earth splashdown scenario. The test lasted all of about 10 seconds and is the ninth test of a 10-part water impact series NASA began conducting in April.
For today’s test, Orion was swung like a pendulum to simulate a scenario where one of its parachutes had failed to deploy. After a few seconds of swinging, Orion was dropped into the 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin, an outdoor pool facility at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
Fast forward to minute 19:20 to watch the test below.
Inside the mock-up were a number of sensors, as well as two test dummies — one representing a 105-pound woman and the other, a 220-pound man. Equipped with spacesuits, both dummies were covered in sensors so engineers could analyze the impact a landing would have on an astronaut’s body.
Orion is the spacecraft that NASA plans to use to send humans to deep-space destinations like asteroids and Mars. Upon returning to Earth, Orion will deploy parachutes to slow its descent into the ocean, similar to the way the Apollo astronauts came home.
But, because Orion is an entirely new spacecraft — kind of like a beefed-up version of the Apollo crew module — NASA needs to conduct these tests to understand how it will behave upon landing under a large range of scenarios.
And while the destination is the most headline-catching aspect of the journey, NASA wouldn’t consider a deep-space mission successful without returning the astronauts home safely. Making this task more difficult is the fact that astronauts’ bodies are already weakened by long-duration exposure to the weightless environment of space prior to landing.
With this in mind, NASA is currently preparing for a wide range of landing scenarios, from extreme weather conditions to failed parachute deployment, before sending humans into space with Orion.
We’ll have to wait until 2023 for the first crewed Orion flight, known as Exploration Mission 2, but, in the meantime, Orion will fly without its precious cargo.
In December, 2014 NASA completed Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), launching an uncrewed Orion atop a Delta IV-Heavy rocket to an altitude of 3,600 miles for two orbits around the planet. Flying farther than a spacecraft designed to carry humans had flown in more than 40 years, EFT-1 marked a milestone for NASA and (modern) human space exploration.
These tests and many others that NASA has been conducting are working up to Orion’s next big flight: Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1). EM-1 will be particularly exciting because it will mark the first time Orion launches with its rocket companion, the Space Launch System.
EM-1 is currently scheduled for September, 2018, pending no delays.