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  Orion Pad Abort-1 (PA-1) test flight

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Author Topic:   Orion Pad Abort-1 (PA-1) test flight
Robert Pearlman
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NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia completed assembly of the first Orion boilerplate capsule this past weekend.

The boilerplate, designated Pad Abort-1 (PA-1), will fly on the first test of the Orion launch escape system this fall from Launch Complex 32 on the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The test is currently scheduled for September 23, 2008.

Robert Pearlman
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Click to enlarge. Photo credit: NASA

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA Readies Hardware for Test of Astronaut Escape System

Returning humans to the moon by 2020 may seem like a distant goal, but NASA's Constellation Program already has scheduled the first test flight toward that goal to take place in less than 12 months.

The Constellation Program is developing a new space transportation system to travel beyond low Earth orbit, expanding human exploration of the solar system and extending human reach to the moon and Mars.

The 90-second flight will not leave Earth's atmosphere, but it will be an important first step toward demonstrating how NASA intends to build safety into its next generation of spacecraft, including the Ares I and V rockets and the Orion crew capsule.

The first in a series of unmanned abort tests, known as Pad Abort-1 or PA-1, is scheduled for late 2008 at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

The tests will help verify that NASA's newly-developed spacecraft launch abort system can provide a safe escape route for astronauts in the Orion crew capsule in the event of a problem on the launch pad or during ascent into low Earth orbit atop the Ares I rocket.

Orion is the Constellation Program's new crew exploration vehicle, set to carry as many as four crew members to lunar orbit and return its crew safely to Earth after missions to the moon's surface. The 5-meter (16.5 foot) wide, cone-shaped capsule also will provide transport services to the International Space Station for as many as six crew members.

But before launching to the moon or to the International Space Station, system tests on Earth have to prove the technologies work.

The pad abort test will simulate an emergency on the launch pad. Upon command from a nearby control center, a dummy Orion crew module -- which would sit on top of a rocket for an actual launch -- will be ejected directly from the launch pad by its rocket-propelled launch abort system to about one mile in altitude and nearly one mile downrange.

That is why engineers and technicians at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., and industry partners on the Orion Project are taking particular care to fabricate and equip the first flight test articles with extreme precision.

Engineers and technicians at Langley designed and fabricated the structural shell of the simulated crew module for the first pad abort test and now are conducting a series of ground checks on the structure. The "crew module simulator," as it is called, accurately replicates the size, outer shape and mass characteristics of the Orion crew module.

"The next step is to ship the completed crew module simulator to Dryden, where they will outfit it with the smarts -- the computers, the electronics, the instrumentation -- all the systems that need to work in conjunction with the structure," said Phil Brown, manager of the Langley Orion Flight Test Article Project.

After the instrumented dummy crew module is delivered to White Sands this summer, it will be integrated with the PA-1 launch abort system flight test article, a vertical tower containing the escape rocket motor and a guiding rocket motor currently under construction at Orbital Sciences, Inc. in Dulles, Va. The combined crew module and launch abort system will be placed on the launch pad being constructed especially for the abort flight test series.

During the pad abort test sequence, the escape system's main abort motor will fire for several seconds, rapidly lifting the simulated crew module from the test launch pad, after which the escape system will detach, and three 116-foot-diameter parachutes will deploy to slow the module for landing.

The test will provide early data for design reviews to follow and will be followed by an ascent abort test in 2009 and a second pad abort test scheduled for 2010, both at White Sands. A parallel series of higher-altitude launch tests will commence at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2009.

"These flight tests will either confirm that our system works or help us identify and correct any defects that surface," said Greg Stover, manager of the Orion Launch Abort System Project Office, located at Langley. "Our goal is that on every manned mission the launch abort system will be the most reliable system that we hopefully never have to use."

In addition to Langley, Dryden and Kennedy, the Orion Project launch abort system team and the abort flight test team includes members from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.; NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and NASA's Glenn Research Center near Cleveland -- as well as Orion Project prime contractor, Lockheed Martin of Denver; and its subcontractor, Orbital Sciences Inc. of Dulles, Va.

The Orion Project Office, located at Johnson, is leading the development of the Orion spacecraft for the Constellation Program, which also includes the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, the Altair human lunar lander and lunar surface systems to support sustained crew habitation.

Video file of the simulated Orion module is airing on NASA Television. collectSPACE has that video available for download (11.2mb, Quicktime).

An additional gallery of images is available from NASA Langley, as is a time-lapse movie of the boilerplate's construction.

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA's Orion Space Capsule Mock-Up Heads West

Late in the evening of March 27, the Orion crew module simulator was loaded on a C-17 aircraft. Next stop -- NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, for more flight test work -- including the installation of flight computers, instruments and other electronics.

Late this year, the full-size structural model will be propelled off a simulated launch pad at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to test Orion's astronaut escape system, which will ensure a safe, reliable escape for astronauts in case of an emergency.

Robert Pearlman
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Aviation Week & Space Technology: Titov's Token
Vladimir Titov, the only person living to have survived a spacecraft abort on the launch pad, seems the most appropriate well-wisher on the planet for the upcoming Orion Flight Test crew module Pad-Abort (PA) tests.

The former cosmonaut autographed the inside of the test vehicle during a visit to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center earlier this year, and can speak with some authority as to what to expect in the event of something going badly wrong on launch.

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA's Launch Abort System Hardware Starts Cross Country Trek

A full-scale mock-up of NASA's Orion launch abort system began a week-long flatbed trailer ride across the country Tuesday, en route to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Once at White Sands, the rocket-like structure will help NASA prepare for this year's abort system test, called Pad Abort 1.

The nearly 45-foot-long launch abort system mock-up, known as the LAS pathfinder, was built at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Engineers and technicians at Langley designed and fabricated the hardware, which represents the size, outer shape and specific mass characteristics of the Orion crew exploration vehicle's abort system.

The LAS pathfinder will be used to help prepare for the Pad Abort 1 flight test at White Sands. Ground crews will practice lifting and stacking the system on the launch pad, which will help ready the crew for handling the actual flight test hardware that will be launched there later this year.

The 90-second flight for Pad Abort 1 will be an important first step toward demonstrating how NASA is building safety into its next generation of spacecraft and will help gather information about how NASA's newly-developed launch abort system operates in reality. The system will provide a safe escape route for astronauts in the Orion crew capsule if there is a problem on the launch pad or during ascent into low Earth orbit atop the Ares I rocket.

During its journey, the LAS pathfinder will break from the drive to visit museums along the way. Museum visits include:

  • Adventure Science Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, March 4
  • Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City on Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7
  • Don Harrington Discovery Center in Amarillo, Texas, on Sunday, March 8
  • New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, N.M., on Monday, March 9

Robert Pearlman
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Courtesy cS member Terry Lebermann (Lunar rock nut), here is the LAS pathfinder during its stop at Oklahoma City's Science Museum Oklahoma:



Robert Pearlman
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Courtesy cS member Scott Schneeweis, here is the LAS pathfinder during its stop at the New Mexico Museum of Space History. He writes:
I also brought along an ammonium perchlorate fuel grain from the collection that was removed from a Saturn V Launch Escape System (Launch Escape Motor) during its inerting process... pictures of today's events and context for the fuel grain are included. Even though the Ares LAS is only a dummy, thought it might be neat to contrast old/new.



E2M Lem Man
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On the same day that it was announced that the Ares I-X vehicle was complete, it was announced that the Ares Pad Abort-1 spacecraft was getting ready to leave NASA Dryden for White Sands Test Range.
Orion Abort Flight Test Crew Module Departs Dryden For White Sands

The Orion crew module that will be used for the first launch abort system Pad Abort 1 flight test is scheduled to depart NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center Aug. 19 for the White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where the launch abort tests will be performed.

Similar to the Apollo crew module, the Orion capsule also has a launch abort system to make it possible for the crew to escape from the launch rocket should something go wrong on the pad or during the ascent to orbit.

At Dryden, engineers and technicians installed instrumentation, electrical wiring, computer systems, avionics, parachutes, thermal ducting, acoustic blankets and a Space Integrated Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System.

Numerous tests were conducted on the Orion test capsule while at Dryden. Large-scale test rigs were fabricated to closely measure the weight and center of gravity of the crew module. Vibration and acoustics tests were then completed to assess the effects of an abort motor firing on both the structure and internal electronics of the crew module. Finally, a combined systems test was conducted to verify the flight readiness of the flight control, antenna, pyrotechnic, and ground control systems. That test was also used as a dress rehearsal for mission operations.

Once at White Sands, the launch abort system and crew module will undergo further combined systems testing, followed by mounting of the launch abort system atop the crew module. The Orion crew module for the Pad Abort 1 test is the same size, shape and weight of the spacecraft that will be used on missions to the International Space Station and beyond. Since there will be no crew on board for the launch abort tests, the crew module will not have seats, life support systems, or other crew equipment.

Over 600 sensors were installed on the crew module and launch abort systems. These sensors measure pressures, temperatures, accelerations, acoustics, and structural strain. A high-speed video camera was also installed to capture the inflation and dynamics of the three 116-foot recovery parachutes.

The first of five planned abort tests, Pad Abort 1, is scheduled for early 2010 from the new launch pad at White Sands. Two of the tests will evaluate the performance of the launch abort system from ground level, simulating an abort while astronauts are on the pad waiting for launch. Three more tests will evaluate the launch abort system performance at different altitudes and speeds using an excess Peacekeeper rocket, provided by the U.S. Air Force, to carry the crew module to the proper test conditions.

For the pad abort test, the launch abort system’s abort motor will be ignited, lifting the Orion crew module test article to an altitude of about one mile, where the launch abort system will jettison itself approximately 22 seconds after the launch. Parachutes will deploy to land the vehicle on the desert floor. NASA has developed additional methods to abort a launch using the Orion service module and the crew module during the high altitude portion of the climb to orbit.

The Orion Project Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is leading a government and contractor team to test the spacecraft’s launch abort system. Under Johnson’s direction, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center leads the flight test vehicle integration and operations effort at Edwards, Calif.

ABOVE: Technicians at NASA Dryden connect one of two mobilizer units to the Orion flight test crew module transportation fixture in preparation for loading the module onto an Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft for transport to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

BELOW: The Orion flight test crew module that will be used for the Orion Launch Abort System Pad Abort 1 flight test is shown with its adapter cone that attaches the abort system's rocket motor to the module.


Photo credit: NASA/Jim Ross

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
Pad Abort Flight Test Set for May 6 at White Sands Missile Range

NASA's latest flight test for future human space exploration is called Pad Abort 1, or PA-1. The test is set for May 6 at the Orion Abort Flight Test Launch Complex 32E at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, N.M. Although Orion is a component of the agency's Constellation program, the future of which is currently under Congressional review, the test is part of NASA's ongoing mission to develop safer space vehicles for all human spaceflight applications. Information gathered through PA-1 testing will be valuable in design and development of future systems built for use in providing a safe escape for the crew in the event of an emergency. The launch abort system, or LAS, could be used on the launch pad or during the first stage of ascent to orbit.

The LAS comprises three solid propellant rocket motors: an abort motor, an attitude control motor, and a jettison motor. The primary motor is the abort motor, which is used to propel the crew module away from the pad. The attitude control motor steers the vehicle to actively maintain stability and reorient it as needed. The jettison motor will pull the whole launch abort system away from the crew module and make way for parachute deployment and landing. In addition to the motor stack, the launch abort system also includes a fairing assembly that covers the crew vehicle and a nose cone.

During the test, an abort command will be sent from the mobile operations facility that ignites the LAS abort motor. The motor will burn for approximately six seconds, with the highest impulse in the first 2.5 seconds. The crew module will reach approximately 445 miles per hour in the first three seconds in its upward trajectory away from the pad, to about one mile high.

The attitude control motor fires simultaneously with the abort motor and provides adjustable thrust vectoring to keep the crew module on a controlled flight path. As the launch abort vehicle completes the burnout of the abort motor it is reoriented in preparation for a programmed sequence of events. Explosive bolts fire and the jettison motor discards the spent abort system from the boilerplate crew module to allow the recovery parachute system to be deployed.

Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, developed the attitude control motor, which includes eight thrusters producing up to 7,000 pounds of thrust. ATK also developed the abort motor, which can produce a momentary half-million-pound thrust as it pulls the capsule away from the launch pad. Aerojet developed the jettison motor, which is the only motor of the three that would be used in all flight cases to pull the escape tower from the crew module.


Credit: NASA/Marc Havican/ Space City Films

The crew module for the PA-1 test was moved to the launch pad March 23. Technicians rolled out the launch abort system motors to the pad a week later, with stacking of the components scheduled to follow shortly. Over the next five weeks, combined systems tests will be conducted leading up to the actual flight test.

Brent Cobleigh, director of Exploration Systems at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California, reports that the NASA team at White Sands has completed the integration of all systems, pyrotechnic devices, and parachutes into the crew test module.

Jay N. Estes, deputy manager in the Orion Flight Test Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, congratulated the NASA and contractor team that has been laboring for more than two years to bring the launch abort system to actual flight test.

"It is a huge accomplishment for the Pad Abort 1 team that we have achieved this milestone," he said. "It's been a long tough effort, but we're almost done!"

After integrating the last rocket motor, the attitude control motor, with the rest of the launch abort system, the joint NASA and Lockheed Martin team electrically connected the system to the crew module for a series of integrated tests in a hangar, Cobleigh said. During these tests, special equipment simulated an abort of a launch while the vehicle is still on the launch pad - essentially "fooling" the vehicle systems into believing that the vehicle was flying an abort sequence. The abort simulation allowed the team to verify that all systems are ready to proceed to the Pad Abort 1 test flight.

The test module and launch abort system stack were built at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia. Systems installation and integration took place at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The module was airlifted to White Sands last August. Langley leads the development of the LAS in partnership with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Dryden is conducting the launch abort flight test effort for the Orion Project Office at the Johnson Space Center, Houston.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor to NASA for the Orion crew exploration vehicle. Orbital Sciences Corporation is responsible for the design, development, test and integration of the LAS for Lockheed Martin.

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
NASA TV Provides Coverage Of New Launch Abort System Test

NASA Television will provide live coverage of the May 6 launch of the Pad Abort 1 flight test. The broadcast will begin at 8:30 a.m. EDT from the launch site at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, N.M.

The launch window extends from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. EDT, with liftoff targeted for the beginning of the window. Pad Abort 1 will be the first fully-integrated test of the launch abort system being developed for the Orion crew vehicle. The information gathered through the test will be used to design and develop future systems that provide a safe escape for crews in the event of an emergency.

A news conference will be held approximately one hour after the test and carried live on NASA TV. The participants are:

  • Doug Cooke, associate administrator, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate
  • Mark Geyer, manager, Orion Project Office
  • Don Reed, manager, Orion Flight Test Office

jhtech2
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Las Cruces Sun-News: Orion almost ready to blast off
Next to the site where America's space and missile program began more than 60 years ago, NASA technicians were busy Friday preparing for the next generation of space flight.

Covered in a yellow thermal blanket -- to protect it from the wind and spotty rain, and to keep its 4,000 pounds of fuel at a cool temperature -- the 55.58-foot tall Orion space exploration vehicle stood poised for its first test flight. Jay Estes, deputy manager of the Orion Flight Test Office, at NASA's Johnson Space Center, in Houston, said that historical first flight is now scheduled for 7 a.m. May 6. The flight will be at WSMR's Launch Complex 32, a short distance west of where the first American V-2 rocket lifted off, from Launch Complex 33.

...the greatest concern among NASA officials is inclement weather. It is a primary reason why the 7 a.m. launch on May 6 is listed as tentative.

"There's a 74 percent chance of launch on that first day," [director of NASA's Exploration Mission Directorate Brent] Cobleigh said. "For the two days that improves to a 95 percent chance."


Credit: ReelNASA

Robert Pearlman
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NASA update
Pad Abort 1 Test Successful

NASA successfully tested the pad abort system for the Launch Abort System developed for the Orion crew exploration vehicle at 9 a.m. EDT.


Credit: NASA TV

The 97-second flight test is called the Pad Abort 1 test, or PA1. It was the first fully integrated test of the Launch Abort System developed for Orion. The test took place at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, N.M.

The Launch Abort System is being designed to offer a safe, reliable and robust method of removing the astronaut crew from danger should an emergency occur on the launch pad or during the vehicle's climb to orbit.


Credit: NASA TV

Matt T
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posted 05-06-2010 09:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Matt T   Click Here to Email Matt T     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great job, depressing viewing. Are there anymore 'legacy' Orion flight tests left or was that Constellation's swan-song?

Robert Pearlman
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Mark Geyer, NASA's manager for the Orion Project Office, addressed this question at the post-Pad Abort-1 test press conference:
There's a lot going on in Orion and in Constellation that you don't see because there is no fire and smoke. We're welding a crew module at Michoud in Louisiana; we're flying a rendezvous and docking sensor on the shuttle later this year; we're firing a first stage [for Ares] later this year; [and] we've finished our preliminary design for software...

SpaceAholic
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Even with the demise of Orion in its intended role, the PA-1 event helps to validate portions of the capsules Earth Landing System design for application as a CRV... though very similar to Apollo, from the video one can note differences, the most obvious being direct extraction of the main canopies via the 2 drogues (Apollo CM transitioned from 2 drogues to 3 pilots to the mains).

Fra Mauro
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posted 05-06-2010 12:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great to see it be such a success.

SpaceAholic
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posted 05-06-2010 01:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I stand corrected on the pilots - this test employed Gen 1 mains with pilots used for extraction (nearly identical architecture to that of Apollo):

Henk Boshuijer
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Seeing the capsule coming down hanging from three chutes gives me a real "Apollo kind of feeling." Let's hope we see this again in the future.

tegwilym
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posted 05-06-2010 04:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Good to see some new technology flying, even if it was just a short flight.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-07-2010 12:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
collectSPACE:
NASA tests Pad Abort system, building on 50 years of astronaut escape system tests

NASA on Thursday successfully test flew an astronaut abort system, recreating a scene last staged during the Apollo program while building upon technology first demonstrated 50 years ago this week.

"The Orion Pad Abort-1 team has successfully tested the first U.S. designed abort system since Apollo," said Doug Cooke, NASA's associate administrator for the exploration systems directorate, at a post-flight briefing. "This system is much more advanced in capability and technology than any abort system designed in the past."

music_space
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posted 05-07-2010 08:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for music_space   Click Here to Email music_space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Boy! this thing takes off! How many Gs are involved here?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 05-07-2010 08:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A crew, had there been one, would have experienced a maximum of 16 Gs on this test, though for the production model, they are aiming not to exceed 11 Gs.

KSCartist
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posted 05-08-2010 05:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KSCartist   Click Here to Email KSCartist     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
16G's is extreme to be sure - but for how long? As a comparative experience how many G's and for how long were the ballistic rentries of Soyuz one with Peggy Whitson aboard?

I guess my question is could an Orion crew survive a 16G abort?

Robert Pearlman
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The abort motor's highest impulse was timed for only the first 2.5 seconds after ignition, so I believe that translates to when the crew would have experienced the maximum 16 Gs.

To put that into perspective -- Peggy Whitson saw a maximum of about half PA1's G-loads, 8.2 Gs, during her ballistic entry aboard Soyuz TMA-11 in April 2008.

The crew of the only manned pad abort in history, Soyuz T-10-1 in September 1983 experienced upwards of 17 Gs for two seconds and lived to tell about it, as did the crew of Soyuz 18a (or 18-1), who eight years earlier were subjected to 21+ Gs during an inflight abort. Both Soviet crews had been injured but neither seriously.

Vladimir Titov, who commanded the Soyuz T-10-1 mission, went on to fly on the space shuttle twice. In 2008, he visited where Pad Abort 1 was being assembled and signed the structure, noting in English, "Good Luck."

Jay Chladek
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posted 05-09-2010 11:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sixteen Gs is not a problem for a crew if they have to experience it. During Mercury's development, a researcher took a ride in a centrifuge I believe over 20 Gs and lived to tell the tale (although he did experience some balance problems due to inner ear damage, which did heal). Kris Stoever writes about it in the Scott Carpenter biography.

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