NASA's New Moonship Takes Ocean Plunge

NASA's New Moonship Takes Ocean Plunge
A mock-up of the Orion crew exploration vehicle floats in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. NASA engineers are testing this 18,000-pound mock-up to learn what the crews will experience after Orion lands and the recovery teams begin their work.
(Image: © NASA.)

For thefirst time since the Apollo era, NASA is testing a new moonship in theturbulent waves of the open ocean.

Thelife-size mockup of the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, NASA?sreplacement for its retiring space shuttle fleet, is undergoing a series ofwater landing trials this month in the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern coast ofcentral Florida. They are the first ocean tests of a full-size NASA spacecraft sincethe Apollo capsule's development in the 1960s.

During thetests, teams of divers and engineers are practicing recoverytechniques to retrieve an Orion capsule after splashdown, as well astesting how the spacecraft performs in open water. The sea trials are the firstin which recovery teams attempted to attach a flotation collar around the Orioncraft while it bobbed up in down with the ocean waves.

?They?re lookingfor different types of sea conditions so they can report back how the capsulebehaves,? NASA spokesperson Amber Philman told SPACE.com from the agency?sKennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Philman said the tests,which are based out of nearby Port Canaveral, are being performed about 20 miles (32 km) off the Floridacoast, with three more days? worth of trials still on tap.

The Orioncrew capsule is NASA?splanned replacement for its three aging space shuttles, which are due toretire at the end of next year. Orion capsules are designed to launchatop a new rocket, the Ares I, and ferry six astronauts to theInternational Space Station or carry a four-person crew to the moon and back. The18,000-pound (8,164-kg) capsule is about 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide and largerthan the older Apollo capsules.

Like Apollocapsules, Orion vehicles are designed to re-enter the Earth?s atmosphere behinda protective heat shield and parachuteto a water splashdown. Earlier this month, NASA announced it will use an Avcoatablator material similar to that used during on Apollo for the Orion spacecraft.NASA currently plans to launch the first operational Orion flight in 2015 andis targeting the first manned moon shot by 2020.

 

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