NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - The Navy and NASA are testing out how they'll recover astronauts once they splash down in the ocean following future missions to deep space.
On Thursday, a team of Navy divers and the crew of the USS Arlington practiced retrieving a full-sized mock-up of the Orion Command Module from waters at Naval Station Norfolk. The space capsule is expected to launch next November.
"When you do a test like this, you spend a long time putting these things on paper, but it's orchestrated with so many groups of folks that all have to come together,” said Scott Wilson with NASA.
10 On Your Side's Art Kohn was invited to witness the splash down recovery test, a project that rings the space agency and the Navy together again after nearly half a century.
The Navy hasn't been used to recover astronauts since 1975, when the USS New Orleans recovered the Apollo spacecraft. After that, astronauts began returning to Earth via the space shuttle. Once the space shuttle program was shuttered, U.S. astronauts began hitching rides aboard a Russian rocket that lands in a Kazakhstan desert.
"For the past 20 months, U.S. Fleet Forces Command has worked closely with NASA...,” said Commander Brett Moyes with USFFC.
But Thursday’s test was the first, full-scale recovery test using a Navy ship.
Even though the Navy is no stranger to recovering space capsules, they’ve never done it quite like they will for the Orion. Instead of using cranes to hoist the capsule aboard, recovery can now be accomplished with small craft and tow lines deployed from the Navy's new generation of amphibious vessels.
"...and then from there we maneuver the ship into position and we pull the command module into the well deck,” said Moyers.
Recovering the command module into a well deck will make the process safer for returning astronauts at the conclusion of the first manned flight in 2017.
"...because you don't have to pop the hatch right away, that takes away some of the safety concerns of trying to egress the crew while you're in open water and heavy sea states or of taking on water into the crew module,” Wilson said.
The LPD-17 San Antonio class ship used for the recovery offers a number of capabilities that used to require several vessels.
"It has an air-search radar that we can use to track the crew module as it comes into the atmosphere and splashes down … it also has a very capable medical facility on board. It has operating rooms, triage units...,” Moyers said.
All of the USS Arlington’s features make it an ideal platform to welcome home the next generation of space explorers.
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A company has been hired to complete the repairs to the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks, but how long those repairs will take remains unknown.
Drivers traveling between Hatteras Island and the mainland were forced to use an emergency ferry Wednesday, following the sudden closure of the Bonner Bridge Tuesday.
State officials say construction on a new Bonner Bridge has been delayed for years because of a legal battle with an environmental group.