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NASA prepares for what could go wrong when Artemis astronauts return to Earth

Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — The 5,000 mph reentry was a rough one and one of the four astronauts who just spent a week orbiting the moon has a spinal injury.

“Backboard!” screams one of the rescue crew venturing into the Orion capsule floating in the water.

That was the scenario being practiced by NASA’s Landing and Recovery team for Artemis II, which plans to fly humans beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time in more than 50 years as the first crewed mission of the Artemis program, an orbital trip around the moon and back.

The launch is not slated until 2024, but teams are already prepping for a safe landing at Kennedy Space Center.

A massive crane lifted a stand-in for the Orion capsule called the Crew Module Test Article into the water adjacent the Vehicle Assembly Building and within sight of the launch pads at KSC as NASA and Department of Defense teams played out the “contingency rescue.”

“They’ve got four guinea pigs in there,” said Mark Vazquez a program manager with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems based at KSC. “I’m sorry, astronauts.”


Actually, the four test crew were all humans, part of the Landing and Recovery team, including its director, Lillian Villareal. All sported pale green flight suits for what ended up being a sun-soaked day with a light breeze and calm waters.

A keen eye could spot a small Darth Vader decal attached to the side of the black capsule, which was given the name Vehicle Advanced Demonstrator for Emergency Rescue, or V.A.D.E.R.

For Monday’s test, response personnel circled the floating capsule on personal watercraft just like they would approach it if it had made its descent from space and splashed down off the coast of California. They deployed an inflatable horseshoe-shaped collar to surround the capsule that fills up enough that astronauts can stand on it.

Then what’s called the “Front Porch,” another inflatable, but with a 20-person capacity, gets deployed as the first three astronaut stand-ins were assisted from the capsule, taking their seats like tourists boarding a water ride at a theme park.


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