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NEWS | Jan. 31, 2017

Piece of Carderock History on Display in Houston for Super Bowl Week

By Daniel Daglis, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs

As part of the official festivities leading up to Super Bowl LI, patrons of the game will get to see a model of the Orion space capsule which was built and tested at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division.

In Discovery Green, a park near NRG Stadium in downtown Houston, NASA's 18,000-pound model capsule will be on display throughout the week leading up to the "Big Game." The full-scale model, measuring 16.5 feet in diameter, was built collaboratively by Carderock's Surface Ship Hydromechanics (Code 85) and Marine and Aviation (Code 88) Divisions.

The stainless-steel model capsule was briefly on display outside of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and will be on temporary display in Houston for football fans and space and engineering enthusiasts alike to view during Super Bowl LIVE, a weeklong event featuring performances and interactive exhibits counting down to the Atlanta Falcons taking on the New England Patriots Feb. 5.

The NASA team conducted initial post-landing Orion recovery test operations in the explosive pond at Carderock headquarters in West Bethesda, Maryland, in 2009. Carderock engineers and NASA personnel were able to test the environmental conditions astronauts and recovery crews would be dealing with upon an ocean landing. These tested ballast conditions reflected a range of splashdown scenarios, from potential aborted missions just after initial launch to full successful mission completion.

This capsule is the first of two which were designed and fabricated at Carderock under the supervision and direction of Richard Banko, an engineer in the Marine and Aviation Division (Code 881).

"NASA came to us in March 2008, and they wanted to get some performance trials with their capsules in actual waves," Banko said. "They wanted to test the action of whether or not the astronauts were going to be able to survive the wave action until somebody could actually come and rescue them from the capsule after landing."

"This was a new vehicle based on the Apollo capsules, which they did a lot of sea testing with, and they wanted to see how this capsule interacted with the waves in various seas' states and try to get indices on the safety of the astronauts as the capsule bobbed on the ocean's surface," he added.

Banko said Carderock was an appealing option for NASA because not only does Carderock have the means to design and fabricate models, but they also have the facilities to test the models on site.

Before Orion, NASA's last ocean landing was in 1975 when Apollo splashed down in the Pacific. According to Banko, the renewed interest in ocean landings came after NASA initially looked at deploying bags for land-based landings, but it turned out the equipment needed for such landings could be rather excessive.

"They wanted a very high-fidelity test, so we had to model not only the external structure, but also the internal structure to see how water moved around on the inside and any obstructions to the water flow inside the heat shield," Banko said.

Banko and his team were able to fabricate an exact replica of the actual Orion capsule being designed by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Colorado at the time.

Banko said the testing on the capsule was very thorough. Air Force parajumpers were brought in to practice putting the collar on the capsule, synching it up and opening the capsule door at various ballast conditions to see exactly what needed to be done before the capsule was taken to Cape Canaveral, Florida, for ocean trials.

After the Orion model capsule completes its stint in Houston, Banko said his dream is it will one day be on permanent display in the National Air and Space Museum for all to enjoy.