On the list of things I never want to be inside of, a spaceship plummeting uncontrollably towards the ground sits pretty high. But watching it happen in a series of drop-tests? That’s a different story. Bring on the boom.
When your ability to land smoothly means the difference between life and death, or millions of dollars well spent or wasted, getting things right is … pretty much the only option. Lucky for us, practice makes perfect.
The compilation above features test-crashes from NASA’s Landing and Impact Research Facility (LandIR), which was originally built to test the lunar landing module back in ’65. The 240-foot high, 400-foot long steel structure (better known as “the gantry”) has one mission: determine the crashworthiness of space-going vehicles and instruments.
“This essential facility allowed us to train Apollo astronauts to fly in a simulated lunar environment,” recalls NASA. “Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and 22 other astronauts used the facility to practice piloting problems they would encounter in the last 150 feet of descent to the surface of the moon.” The crew was also able to practice moon-walking (of the non-Michael Jackson variety) at LandIR, thanks to a system of slings and cables that could be attached to their sides.
The Gantry is now used for all forms of impact dynamics studies, and the lunar landscape has since been replaced with a runway that can be modified to simulate various crash environments. “It looks like a giant, steel erector set,” says NASA’s Langley Research Center, who uploaded the video. “It is now used to conduct crash testing of full scale aircraft under controlled conditions and splash testing of space capsule mock ups.”
Fun as they are to watch, crash-tests like these are serious business, and an essential part of developing safety protocols for upcoming missions. To infinity, and beyond!
IMAGES: NASA Langley Research Center