KHOU 11 News went offshore with NASA Thursday as it conducted the first major test of equipment meant to keep astronauts safe when they splash down on Earth.
Astronauts and others tested Orion spacecraft splashdown recovery about four miles off the coast of Galveston. The testing is the first series of evaluations in open water and is taking place with the assistance of the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force.
“We have new spacecraft, commercial spacecraft and Orion that may use this technique of landing in the water," explained NASA Astronaut Suni Williams. "A lot of Earth is water, and we have to know how to have the right equipment."
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before.
NASA is building a flexible, reusable and sustainable capability and infrastructure beyond the moon that will last multiple decades and support missions of increasing complexity.
NASA astronaut Dan Burbank said Thursday night after 12 hours on the water, the test "went great." He said the biggest challenge was getting the crew in and out of the Orion safely.
"I think the biggest challenge probably for us was getting the crew safely in the capsule and out of the capsule between the various events," Burbank said. "The sea state was, admittedly, wasn't terribly threatening -- it was maybe 2-foot, 3-foot tops at most. Even that gives enough extra realism over what we've done previously with the vehicle."
The astronauts planned to get the spacecraft out of the water around 7 p.m. Thursday, but Burbank says the crew had some trouble getting the capsule out of the water.
"It got a little heavier than we expected, gained a couple thousand pounds," Burbank said. "A little bit of water, some of it probably the result of us getting in and out of it...Getting it safely up back on the ship with that load, I think, was a bit of a challenge and doing it in such a way that we didn't damage the ship or -- in our case -- the capsule."
NASA’s Orion and Ground Systems Development and Operations programs are collaborating with the U.S. Department of Defense to evaluate how to safely and effectively recover astronauts from Orion crew modules in a variety of scenarios after their missions end with ocean splashdowns.
The tests will continue through the week.
Learn more about Orion spacecraft here: http://www.nasa.gov/orion