NASA drops Orion spacecraft into giant swimming pool

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A test version of the Orion capsule returns to the water in preparation for Artemis II missions.

A test version of the Orion capsule returns to the water in preparation for Artemis II missions.
Image: NASA (Fair use)

NASA is preparing to drop a 14,000-pound mock-up of the Orion spacecraft in a large pool in Virginia, the latest in a series of drop tests leading to the possible Artemis II lunar mission. The test is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. ET and will be seen live on NASA TV (see the stream below).

The drop of the model crew module will take place at NASA’s Hydro Impact Basin. The new round of tests began on March 23 and focuses on finalizing computer models for loads and structures ahead of the planned 2023 crewed flight to the Moon., a mission called Artemis II (astronauts won’t actually land on the Moon during this mission – which will hopefully come during Artemis III). The pool is 20 feet deep and contains approximately one and a half Olympic size swimming pool. Dropping the capsule from different angles and at different speeds helps NASA engineers understand how the capsule will withstand real-world conditions, such as entering Earth’s atmosphere and splashing into the ocean.

Before the SpaceX Crew Dragon team landed in the Gulf of Mexico last August, it had been 45 years since NASA had performed a splashdown. Half a century after the Apollo program, the Artemis missions will return humans to the moon, with plans to land our species on the lunar surface with Artemis III in 2024. Missions are also to see astronauts return safely, once again swaying in the waters of the Pacific.

NASA practices every element of the landing, from its abandon the system the recovery of spacecraft. The new drop tests will build on previous projections and give NASA a greater awareness of what Orion and his crew will experience in the crucial final moments of Artemis II’s return journey.

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