NASA tests astronaut ocean exit process for Orion crew capsule


NASA has a long and thorough safety certification process for
any vessels hoping to transport astronauts to space and back –
and its Orion crew capsule is no exception. The vehicle, which
is aiming to first launch with a crew aboard the Space Launch
System (SLS) heavy lift rocket sometime between 2021 and 2023,
underwent water exit testing (via Space) in the Gulf of Mexico, to see how it
would fare if astronauts ever have to let themselves out and
boat to safety after a Pacific Ocean splashdown.

The NASA test took place on July 11, and involved shipping the
Orion capsule out into the Gulf on board a U.S. Coast Guard
ship, where it was placed in the water. Astronauts then suited
up and shipped out on a dinghy to climb into the capsule, where
they recreated the emergency egress procedures that they’d
actually have to run through should the capsule ever wind up in
the Pacific Ocean.

Astronauts making their way out of the capsule and jetting away
via their own inflatable, bright orange safety raft isn’t the
preferred course of egress – once the Orion sets down in the
Pacific as intended, standard operating procedure would have an
Earth-based recovery team head out to retrieve the astronauts
on board, which is better for all involved because those inside
the capsule are likely to be feeling the ill effects of
prolonged stays in space, which include muscle loss, for
example.

But in case they can’t be reached within 24 hours for some
reason (the time the Orion is designed to sustain them for) or
they need to get away quicker, there are exit procedures in
place that let the astronauts handle the whole process
themselves – even with reduced capabilities.

Other crew craft are also running through the safety checklist
NASA requires prior to crew launches, including the ULA and
their CST-100 Starliner, which
recently demonstrated the emergency egress system
it’s
designed for pre-launch operations when the craft is loaded
aboard an Atlas V rocket.

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