NASA's Space Shuttle Replacement Makes First Splash
Rescue divers secure a flotation ring around a mockup of NASA's new Orion spacecraft during water splashdown tests in Florida on April 8, 2009.
Credit: NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION - In a test reminiscent of the Apollo days, pararescue jumpers in wetsuits attached inflatable rings around a mockup of NASA's next spacecraft.

In the first splashdown test Wednesday for NASA's Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, airmen from the Air Force 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base practiced stabilizing the capsule in the water.

The buoyancy of the Orion had already been tested in a pool. For the recent test, a crane lowered the capsule into the calm waters of the Trident Basin at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

"Our next step is to take it out to sea," said Michael Generale, NASA test director.

The 15-foot diameter crew module will replace the space shuttle after it is retired in 2010, or soon after. The Orion is expected to carry Americans back to the moon.

The pararescue jumpers also attached three yellow inflatable spheres to the capsule. During a real splashdown, Generale said spheres on Orion would inflate and flip the conical capsule upright.

"It's not been done since the Apollo days," Generale said after the test.

The pararescue jumpers, called PJs, tested 18-inch and 24-inch diameter collars by attaching them around the lower section of the crew capsule as it floated in the basin, where it had been towed behind a boat. The PJs used an inflatable boat to position the collars around the capsule.

"They are testing things that will become part of the training manual," Air Force Tech Sgt. Paul Flipse, a spokesman for the 920th Rescue Wing, said.

Orion is part of the Constellation Program's fleet of vehicles. It combines Apollo spacecraft and shuttle booster technology to create the new space exploration system.

"PJs used to do this back in the Apollo days," Master Sgt. Chris Seinkner, who participated in the test, said. "This is kind of nostalgic for us."

The Orion crew capsule soon will be tested at sea in increasingly rough water. Seats and other components will be added for other trials. Generale said Wednesday's effort was just the start of testing.

"Our test philosophy is crawl, walk, run," he said.

  • Video - Mock Orion Capsule Crashes to Earth
  • Video - NASA's Constellation Journey Begins: Part 1, Part 2
  • Video - Back to the Moon with NASA's Constellation

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