July 19, 2008
NASA Used Cadavers in Orion Landing Tests
Personnel working under contract for NASA used cadavers in tests to develop landing systems, spacesuits and seats in the new Orion moonship, space agency officials said Friday.
Three human bodies were used in the tests at Ohio State University Medical Center last summer and fall.The tests provided the space agency's safety experts and engineers assessments of the forces that astronauts are expected to experience when the new spacecraft descends to Earth by parachute.
Cadavers, examined before and after the testing, offer insights into the forces on internal organs and the spinal cord that cannot be accurately obtained using automotive crash-test dummies and computer models.
"The testing with postmortem human subjects and mannequins is helping NASA to better define the human injury potential for the landing (forces) that we anticipate with Orion," said NASA seat engineer Dustin Gohmert, who was involved in the test planning.
Define and refine "The interface between the spacesuit and the seats is relatively complex, much more so than in an automobile -- even one from the racing industry," Gohmert said.
"The (forces) we anticipate have never been studied before. We are using this research to help define and refine the suits and the seats."
The testing, which NASA said cost $40,000, was first disclosed by www.nasawatch.com, a Web page managed by a former space agency engineer.
David Steitz, a spokesman for NASA's medical division, said the agency has carefully followed widely accepted ethical standards for using cadavers donated for research.
"It's a socially awkward topic," Steitz said. "The bodies are all carefully handled through all of the tests. We follow ethical medical procedures with these bodies that have been donated for science."
The Orion capsule and its Ares 1 rocket are under development at NASA to replace the space shuttle, which is facing retirement in two years.
The new spacecraft is expected to begin flying by 2015, transporting six astronauts to and from the international space station. In combination with a larger rocket, Orion would return crews of four astronauts to the moon by 2020.
In some cases, the safety research conducted with crash-test dummies and computer models is insufficient for spaceflight, former astronaut Nancy Currie said.
As the chief engineer for NASA's Engineering and Safety Center at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Currie leads an effort to assess the potential for injuries on the moonship.
NASA is looking at the results of long-running studies from the military and auto-racing industry, but there are limitations to their use.
Pilots and race car drivers do not wear spacesuits, the bulky garments that Orion astronauts will don. Though life-saving, spacesuits restrict the ability of the astronauts to move around in their cramped quarters.
"If a crew member injured a shoulder and could not open a hatch after landing, that would be more significant than the same injury in your typical automobile crash," Currie said.