That's how NASA tests the return of their space capsules that land at sea

That’s how NASA tests the return of their space capsules that land at sea

If you ever wondered what happens when a space capsule – bringing an astronaut back to Earth – lands in the water, you’re not alone. NASA engineers think about it a lot, what led them to play the Orion module full of mannequins in a giant pool.

The space agency notes that the fastest times, even after the slowdown of the parachute, the impact with the sea creates “the greatest deceleration of mission and with that, one of the greatest forces on the human body.” So, it is better they hit us adjustments for the Orion module is planned to land in the Pacific O Mannequins inside the capsule.

Upon re-entry from a deep space mission, NASA’s next generation spacecraft, more commonly known as Orion, will descend under its three main parachutes, swaying in the wind until its final splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. In that brief instant where capsule meets water, astronauts will experience the mission’s greatest deceleration and with that, some of the greatest forces on the human body. That’s where crash-test dummies come into the picture.

Engineers drop an Orion test capsule with crash-test dummies inside into NASA Langley Research Center’s 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin to simulate what the spacecraft may experience when splashing down in the Pacific Ocean after deep-space missions.
Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, are working to ensure astronauts are uninjured during splashdown by performing water-impact tests of an Orion test capsule with suited crash test dummies inside.

In tests, the engineers put the mannequins in the module to then throw it in a bowl of 6 meters deep, located at the NASA Langley Research Center, to measure the impact. “We can not only learn how the structure responds to these impact tests with water, but we also understand how the drop impacts the seats and the crew,” said Mark Baldwin , who leads the team of damage to Orion at Lockheed Martin .


During the most recent drop test, two crash-test dummies wearing modified Advanced Crew Escape System suits were secured in the full-scale capsule. Each dummy was equipped with internal sensors to help engineers quantify the potential for injury.

“This gives us a better understanding of localized responses at the head and neck to protect against common impact injuries like concussion and spinal fracture,” Baldwin said.

This test series was designed to take the Orion spacecraft through some of the most stringent scenarios possible while landing with parachutes. Drop tests account for the variety of wind and wave conditions that might exist when returning humans from deep-space missions.

“We are intentionally going to extremes in this test series because that is where we need to demonstrate we can keep the structure intact and the crew safe regardless of the conditions at splashdown,” Baldwin added.

With four vertical drop tests successfully completed, engineers now prepare for what’s ahead. Throughout the next few months, more rigorous testing will occur during five swing tests of the capsule with the fully suited dummies.

The mannequins are covered with sensors that provide data to the team about what happens during the impact. This allows them to understand what happens to the body, thus ensuring that potential losses can be minimized.


So far, the team has dropped the module four times in the pool. However, now they will start a series of new tests that investigate what happens if the capsule into the water at unusual angles.

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That’s how NASA tests the return of their space capsules that land at sea

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