Orion capsule test drop

Right now, NASA is working on their next generation of space exploration, and in amongst the plans and projects is the Orion capsule.  The capsule was originally a part of the Constellation program, which would have taken the US back to the moon.  That program was cancelled, but the capsule is still an active project, redesigned as the MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle).  Tests are being done on the 18,000 pound vehicle, and on Thursday, my family and I were invited to come and watch the test drop.  Awesome!  It was a really unique opportunity, and one most people don’t ever get to see. (That’s the cool part).  Here’s the nerdy part that was a bit anti-climactic.  The drop was scheduled for 1:00 pm, and because the safety team did not arrive on time the check the rigging out (it is suspended from Langley’s Gantry, which is an enormous metal structure they test vehicles, etc. from)…the vehicle is also released with explosive bolts, much like the boosters for the space shuttle were (which explains the need for the safety crew)…the test did not happen until after 3:00 pm.  That’s ok, because delays happen.  So at about 3 pm, they started to lift the capsule into drop position..whoohoo!  The boys, Naomi, and Aaron (and I) were really excited…as they lifted it at a 15 degree angle…several feet up.  Wait, several feet?  What??  Yup, this drop test was only several feet.  So while it was an honor to be there, and exciting on several levels, I can’t say that the drop itself was amazing.  Just kind of cool.  Here’s the video, which is still fun to see (especially since you can sit at your computer and not stand around outside for a couple of hours to do so!):

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/mpcv/orion-droptest-dec01.html

As I write this, the kids came running over to watch the video of the drop and are still excited about it, so I suppose it wasn’t too bad!  Notice as the video plays how much water is displaced (remember, the capsule is 18,000 pounds!).  This test was to check the amount of flexing the heat shield on the bottom of the capsule would undergo if it hit the ocean during a large ocean swell (there are hundreds of sensors just inside the heat shield).  Apparently the much larger drop–the one from much higher up when the capsule will hit at approx. 65 miles an hour–is scheduled for January.

While we were at Langley, we also toured the DLN (Digital Learning Network) studio, where they film some of the NASA videos and live interactive lessons with classrooms.  The set and equipment was fun to see, and the producer spent some time showing Harrison and Aaron how to run the cameras back stage:

And finally, we were able to walk around the Gantry I mentioned earlier, which is also where the Apollo astronauts trained (not at Johnson Space Center in Houston, where astronauts now train).

The white wall at the bottom right of the picture is where they attached the Apollo equipment so the astronauts could practice different skills (it’s also marked with lines which didn’t show up in the picture that is used for other drop tests for speed and distance…it’s hard to get a good overall picture of this Gantry and how it’s used). We also saw several the outside of wind tunnels, which Langley is known for, one of which is being removed right now.  There weren’t any tours scheduled for the wind tunnels, so no views from the inside.  Oh well, still an exciting (and long) day!

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~ by alanotte on December 4, 2011.

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