Scientists and technicians from NASA gathered in the desert near Yuma recently, hoping to test a parachute for the Orion Mars mission capsule. As Maya Springhawk Robnett of the Arizona Science Desk was on-site, things didn’t quite go as planned...
Around 6:30 on a windy morning, dozens of NASA personnel gather in the desert of Yuma Proving Ground to drop a “dart,” a stand-in for the capsule mock-up, to test the parachute. Koki Machin, Chief Engineer for the Capsule Parachute Assembly System or CPAS, says while some aspects of the capsule are designed through calculation, the parachute is understood by demonstration. “There’s no model for that. The only way we know it works is because we’ve done it and we’ve done it a bunch of times over a broad range of conditions.”
The capsule will bring astronauts safely to the ground at the end of a mission—in this case, the Orion mission, the spacecraft to send humans to Mars. This drop is the first in the final phase of eight tests for the capsule. “We’re in the home stretch, this is our final design," says Jim McMichael, the Systems Engineering and Integration Lead for CPAS. "It’s exciting to be able to field this system for ultimately for a human spacecraft.”
Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the Director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston and also the first female Hispanic astronaut, says this is a critical aspect for Orion. “It doesn’t matter how well the whole rest of the space mission goes. If the parachutes don’t work right at the end, you don’t have a successful mission.”
However, by around 8 o’clock, Dr. Ochoa says it looks like they won’t be able to drop the dart, after all. “Well, it looks like we’re not going to be able to test today. They’re working an issue with the aircraft.”
The postponed, or “scrubbed,” test is yet to be rescheduled.