Orion crash-test dummies abused in the name of safety
Engineers at NASA'sLangley Research Center, Virginia, are putting a team of advancedcrash-test dummies through astronaut hell. It's all part of testing for the potentialinjuries that could be inflicted on future crews splashing down inthe Orion spacecraft.
The Orion spacecraft isa vital component to NASA's roadmap to Mars, and as such will berequired to be capable of withstanding an atmospheric re-entry andsplashdown from a deep-space velocity. Even if Orion's three main stage parachutes deploy without a hitch, the crew will still be infor an unpleasant jolt when the spacecraft impacts the ocean.
In order to ensure thatthe impact is experienced as a mere annoyance to the astronautson-board rather than a potentially life-threatening event, a team ofengineers have mocked up a full-size representation of the Orioncapsule to vigorously test the risk posed by the sudden decelerationof splashdown.
During each of thetests, the mock spacecraft is crewed by a set of crash-test dummiesfitted with a range of internal sensors. Paired with sensors mountedaboard the mock capsule itself, the trials should grant NASA and itspartner Lockheed Martin invaluable data regarding how the pressure ofimpact affects the capsule, and how translation of the forces througha chair could potentially injure the crew.
The dummies are fittedwith Advanced Crew Escape Suits(ACES), which may be used by futurehuman crews during lift-off, extravehicular activities (EVAs), andfinally, during descent and splashdown.
So far, the mockcapsule has been tested by dropping it from a wire harness into alarge tank of water while simulating a range of conditions such asstrong winds and rough waves. To date, four of these tests have beencompleted.
Over the next fewmonths, the Orion mock-up (including its unlucky but thankfullylifeless crew) will be put through a series of five swing tests. Thisalternative method of testing will see the capsule strapped into aharness, and slung into the simulated ocean at an angle.
"This gives us abetter understanding of localized responses at the head and neck toprotect against common impact injuries like concussion and spinalfracture," states Mark Baldwin, crew injury lead for Orion primecontractor, Lockheed Martin. "We are intentionally going toextremes in this test series because that is where we need todemonstrate we can keep the structure intact and the crew saferegardless of the conditions at splashdown."