Astronauts practice launching in NASA's new Orion spacecraft

Sep 30, 2013
Astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman try out a prototype display and control system inside an Orion spacecraft mockup at Johnson Space Center during the first ascent and abort simulations for the program. Credit: NASA

(Phys.org) —For the first time, NASA astronauts are practicing a launch into space aboard the agency's Orion spacecraft, and provided feedback on the new capsule's cockpit design.

In the ascent simulations, which took place over the course of two weeks at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston this month, rehearsed their roles during an eight-minute climb into aboard Orion. The rehearsals included procedures that would be required in the event of an emergency with the agency's new heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket, which is being designed to carry Orion to low-Earth orbit on the first portion of its flights to deep space.

Ten pairs of astronauts participated in two normal launch simulations and two launch-abort simulations inside an Orion mockup fitted with instrument panels and other equipment being designed for the actual capsule. As the two-person crews made their way through a series of tasks, engineers took careful notes of every comment and question from the crew. Their feedback will be considered in the process of fine-tuning the design and build requirements for the displays and controls.

"Simulations like these provide valuable experience by giving astronauts and the operations team an early look at what going to deep space in Orion will be like," said astronaut Lee Morin, who has been working on the Orion displays as supervisor of Johnson's rapid prototyping laboratory. "Rehearsing launch and ascent—two of the most challenging parts of Orion's mission—also gives us an opportunity to work toward optimizing how the crew interacts with the spacecraft."

Astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman work with simulation instructor Juan Garriga (center) to prepare for their first ascent simulation inside a mockup of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft at Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA

Designing a spacecraft's cockpit to maximize simplicity and efficiency is not easy. Each of NASA's space shuttles had 10 display screens, more than 1,200 switches, dials and gauges, and pages of procedures weighing hundreds of pounds on paper.

By comparison, Orion, which is designed for deep-space exploration and autonomous or piloted rendezvous and docking, will have just three computer screens, each the size of a sheet of paper, which take advantage of information technology advancements made since the space shuttles were designed in the early 1970s.

"It's very rewarding work, knowing the displays we are creating and testing now will be what future astronauts will be looking at as they rendezvous with an asteroid, orbit the moon, and even travel to Mars," Morin said. "Getting this right is key to making Orion and other future vehicles safer and easier to use."

Orion's first crewed launch, Exploration Mission-2, is scheduled for 2021, when NASA plans to send two astronauts to an asteroid in lunar orbit. Orion ultimately will allow us to go farther into space than ever before, including destinations such as Mars.

NASA plans to make Orion's data and software available to the agency's commercial partners, who may adapt it for use in spacecraft that could transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Explore further: NASA, US Navy to test space capsule recovery (Update)

Related Stories

NASA, US Navy to test space capsule recovery (Update)

Aug 15, 2013

The U.S. Navy and NASA are testing out how they'll recover astronauts once they splash down in the ocean following future missions to deep space, something a Navy crew hasn't had to do in nearly 40 years.

Image: Readying Orion for flight

Jun 26, 2012

(Phys.org) -- The NASA team at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans has completed the final weld on the first space-bound Orion capsule. The Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) Orion will be shipped ...

Drop test for Orion crew capsule's new parachutes

Apr 11, 2012

NASA successfully conducted a drop test of the Orion crew vehicle’s entry, descent and landing parachutes in preparation for the vehicle’s first orbital flight test, currently scheduled for 2014. Orion is the crew ...

Orion test flight: A look at SLS hardware, integration

Jul 02, 2012

(Phys.org) -- When NASA conducts its first test launch of the Orion spacecraft in 2014, the crew module's designers will record invaluable data about its performance -- from launch and flight, to re-entry ...

NASA puts Orion backup parachutes to the test

Dec 21, 2012

(Phys.org)—NASA completed the latest in a series of parachute tests for its Orion spacecraft Thursday at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona, marking another step toward a first flight ...

Recommended for you

Vegetables on Mars within ten years?

19 hours ago

The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen UR. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to ...

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

19 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

Meteorite studies suggest hidden water on Mars

20 hours ago

Geochemical calculations by researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology to determine how the water content of Mars has changed over the past 4.5 billion years suggest as yet unidentified reservoirs of water ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

Vegetables on Mars within ten years?

The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen UR. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.