When astronauts return to Earth in the Orion spacecraft, they will reenter on an extremely hot and fast journey through the atmosphere before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. To protect the crew on landing, NASA will evaluate how the spacecraft may behave in parachute-assisted landings in different wind conditions and wave heights by conducting water-impact testing. To prepare for this testing, the first major step was to couple an Orion crew module mockup with the heat shield from Orion’s first flight test.
However, the heat shield, which fit perfectly with the EFT-1 Orion crew module, was not designed to mate with the mockup. To create perfect unity, the team had to design and fabricate integration hardware to connect the two pieces. During this effort, more than 400 holes were match drilled to assemble the mockup to the heat shield.
At the same time, the team prepared the remainder of the mockup for water-impact testing. These preparations included placing instruments and sensors inside the structure and installing the system that will be used to store the sensor data from the water impact tests. The team then installed the crew seats and the crew impact attenuation system that is designed to lessen the shock load on astronauts during landing.