NASA uses crash dummies in extreme Orion drop tests

NASA's Orion spacecraft will eventually make a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean with living astronauts inside — those astronauts will experience "some of the greatest forces on the human body," according to the space agency. Before that time comes, though, NASA is fitting Orion with crash test dummies and sending them through this rapid deceleration first to see what happens.

NASA wants to know what kind of impact Orion's ocean landing will have on astronauts, and so it has tested the vessel by dropping it into bodies of water with crash dummies inside, using the data to determine how a similar drop will affect astronauts. In addition, such tests show NASA how forces from the impact effect the spacecraft's structure and how much force is transmitted into Orion's seats.

The GIFS above show a full-scale capsule replica being used; the dummies inside are wearing Advanced Crew Escape System suits that have been modified. Sensor within the dummies will show whether the drops resulted in damage that translates into injuries or potential injuries in humans. The space agency performed drops that simulated specific varying conditions, such as different wind speeds and wave conditions.

Talking about the tests, Lockheed Martin's crew injury leader Mark Baldwin said, "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." When Orion does go on its first flight, it'll be on top of the SLS rocket.