Tuesday, August 20, 2013

NASA Langley Project SPLASH!


Awesome trip to Virginia! I often despaired that I might never get to see the NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC), but I not only finally had the opportunity -- I was able to cross a major space site off my bucket list in the process. THE GANTRY!

Lunar Landing Research Facility

This "Gantry" is 240 feet high, 400 feet long, 265 feet wide, and it's massive A-frame  won't fit in any photographs unless you take one from a helicopter!

Built in 1963, and operational by 1965, it was initially used to model the Moon's 1/6th gravity level with complex suspension systems. 

The Gantry at NASA Langley

Originally called the Lunar Landing Research Facility (LLRF),  it was upon this sacred site where all 24 Apollo astronauts trained to land on the Moon with Lunar Excursion Model Simulators (LEMS)

The suspension systems also allowed all the potential Moonwalkers to practice walking in low gravity in their life support suits-- as uncomfortably evidenced here by astronaut  Roger Chaffee in 1965.

The Gantry

Still actively used for testing, the area is now a National Historical Landmark, and has recently been re-named the Landing and Impact Research Facility (LandIR).

Can you remember all those acronyms? There will be a test later. 

Our host at the Gantry was Richard Boitnott, 7-year veteran of the Structural Dynamics Branch at NASA Langley, and he inspired the most laughter I've ever heard at a NASA presentation, as he treated us to fascinating films of Orion space capsule drop-testing at the LandIR. Oh, the hilarity.

Richard Boitnott

Watch Richard narrate dry-lake bed landings, animal mishaps, NASCAR comparison crashes, airbag blowouts, sand & honeycomb decelerations, slow-motion impacts from different angles, water landings (the first in a toddler wading pool!), and finally, a time-lapsed video of the construction of the Hydro Impact Basin used for advanced capsule water landings.

The video is just short of 9 minutes, but undeniably one of the best ways to see how Orion is being prepared for space travel, and how it will return to Earth. And funny. So funny. Can you spot the dragonfly?

The capsule used in the final drops was the same one we saw later in the day at the Norfolk Naval Air Station, being pulled from the ocean into the USS Arlington, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock. I'll upload those videos tomorrow!

If you enjoyed these films, you can see all the originals at the NASA Langley Hydro Impact Basin website, where the last 2 years of tests are archived.

For photographs of the entire day, see the NASA Langley album in my Pillownaut Picasa galleries!  Includes snaps around LaRC, Orion sea recovery, plus older pictures of Orion mockup crafts at the final Space Shuttle launch (STS-135) and the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF) in Houston, Texas.