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Heavenly Bodies Converge for NASA

July 23, 2008

HOUSTON — File this one under “e” for “ewww factor.”

NASA has used human cadavers to test the new Orion space capsule that is supposed to take astronauts back to the moon sometime around 2020.

Three cadavers were used in experiments at Ohio State University last year to test the safety of new spacesuits and seats, allowing engineers to measure the extreme forces to which astronauts will be subjected when the capsule returns to earth by parachute after each mission.

NASA officials say they also use automotive crash-test dummies and computer simulations in their research, but actual bodies are necessary to monitor the effects of the descent on internal organs and the spinal cord.

“It is widely recognized in the field of injury biomechanics that the information gained using mannequins does not always correlate directly into predictions for how humans could be injured,” NASA said in a statement provided to nasawatch .com, which first reported the story last week.

“Yes, it’s something that you’d kind of prefer not thinking about, but it is medical testing and it is very important to the safety of our crews,” said Lynnette Madison, a NASA spokeswoman at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The cadavers were not specifically donated to NASA, Madison said, but rather were people who offered their bodies to a medical center for research. That means you can try to hitch a ride to the moon in the afterlife, but the odds are against you.

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