This week, NASA’s Langley Research Center published a video of the crash-test-dummies whose horrifying accidents make air and space travel safer for their human counterparts.
The dummies keep humans safer by giving scientists key data about whether bodies bend or break under different crash conditions. So they’re outfitted with sensors and instruments, and can vary in size from 105 to 220 pounds to simulate a range adult human bodies.
Then, the dummies are strapped into the seats of both aircraft and spacecraft and dropped. In March 2017, for example, 10 dummies and a whole lot of luggage from an unclaimed baggage center in Alabama (really) were loaded into an airplane’s fuselage, which was dropped 14 feet onto hard dirt. The bags damaged the plane’s floor in some spots, but the dummies suffered no major injuries. That information will be key for setting safety standards for new planes.
NASA researchers also used dummies in a series of crash tests in 2016 for the Orion crew capsule, which is intended to one day carry astronauts to deep space and back again. When it returns, the plan is for it to splashdown in the Pacific ocean, slowed by three main parachutes. NASA used a pair of dummies — one large and one small — in a mockup of the Orion capsule and tested them by dropping it into a 20-foot-deep pool, called the Hydro Impact Basin.
The researchers crash tested both naked and clothed dummies to get a better sense for how a spacesuit and helmet would change the way the body moves. The truth is that in the end, as valuable as these dummies are, they don’t get a lot of dignity.
So, to the brave dummies at NASA enduring helicopter crashes, fuselage drops, and water landings in mockup spacecraft, we salute you. The safety of air travelers and NASA astronauts alike rests on your battered shoulders (and heads and necks).