This week, the NASA Langley Research Center released a video of the crash test dummies whose horrific accidents make air and space travel safer for their human counterparts.
Dummies keep humans safer by giving scientists key facts about whether bodies bend or break under different shock conditions. So they are equipped with sensors and instruments, and can range in size from 105 to 220 pounds to simulate a range of adult human bodies.
Then, the dummies are tied to the seats of both aircraft and spaceships and dropped. In March of 2017, for example, 10 mannequins and a lot of luggage from an unclaimed luggage center in Alabama (actually) were loaded onto the fuselage of an airplane, which fell 14 feet above the hard ground. The bags damaged the aircraft floor at some points, but the mannequins did not suffer significant injuries. That information will be key to establishing safety standards for new aircraft.
A test of Orion's fall in 2016. Credit: NASA
NASA researchers also used dummies in a series of crash tests in 2016 for the Orion crew capsule, which is meant to transport astronauts one day to deep space and vice versa. When I return, the plan is to fall into the Pacific Ocean, slowed down by three main parachutes. NASA used a pair of dummies, one large and one small, in a model of Orion's capsule and tested them by dropping it into a 20-foot-deep puddle called Hydro Impact Basin.
The researchers analyzed evidence of both naked and dressed dolls to get a better idea of how a spacesuit and a helmet would change the way the body moves. The truth is that, in the end, however valuable these mannequins are, they do not receive much dignity.
Dressing the mannequin for a fall test of Orion. Photo: David C. Bowman / NASA
Then, to the brave mannequins of NASA that support helicopter collisions, fuselage falls and water landings in model spacecraft, we salute you. The safety of air travelers and NASA astronauts rests on their battered shoulders (and heads and necks).