NASA Orion Parachute Test 2017: The Mars Generation Reports

NASA Orion Parachute test

Photo by NASA

We are thrilled to have had The Mars Generation member Jeff Herold onsite at the NASA 2017 ET and join us as a guest writer.

Please visit our “Get Involved” page to learn more about how you can volunteer and/or join The Mars Generation. Let’s go to Mars!

*** Please note guest submissions are options of the author and do not necessarily reflect the mission or beliefs of The Mars Generation.

Experiencing the Parachute Test

On Tuesday, March 7th, 2017, I drove three hours from Phoenix to Yuma with my friend, Perry the Peregrine (@STEMFalcon). We shared a room for the night and woke up very early on Wednesday to meet Chuck Wullenjohn, Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, and Laura Rochon, NASA Johnson Space Center Public Relations Officer. As a member of the press representing The Mars Generation, I was among other local and regional reporters, including a Canadian group working for the Discovery Channel.

Mr. Wullenjohn briefed our group with some Dos and Don’ts, and even shared how unique the Yuma Proving Ground is due to its size. It is over 1,300 square miles in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and includes a wildlife preserve in the middle of it. What makes the Yuma Proving Ground different from other proving grounds around the world is that the restricted airspace extends all the way to outer space! That means high-altitude tests can be done without interference from commercial aircraft flying overhead.

My first interview was with Dustin Neill, engineer from Lockheed Martin, who was very eager to share his passion for the Orion program and his team’s role in developing and testing the parachute system. He loved answering the questions sent on behalf of The Mars Generation and gave some details on what the parachute systems were made of and how they worked.

Former Navy test pilot and current Commander in the U.S. Navy, Victor Glover is a member of the newest astronaut group for NASA. He was enthusiastic about the Journey to Mars and also answered some questions sent to The Mars Generation. These questions mostly concerned challenges Orion may face during its missions as well as what parachute improvements have been made for Orion over the past few years.

After a couple of test flyovers, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, which is a large military transport aircraft, released the Orion capsule mockup at about 25,000 feet. The capsule reached speeds of about 130 mph, deployed several sets of drogue chutes and the main parachutes, before landing gently on the ground.

I was able to get very close to the capsule and parachutes after the initial check by the recovery team. It was an amazing sight to see the Orion perched on a slight angle with the giant parachutes stretched out in front of it. Dozens of engineers were there to take measurements, collect computer data, and eventually roll up the parachutes to be used for a future test.

This experience was unlike anything I’ve seen before and I am honored to have been representing The Mars Generation on this historic day of the Orion parachute drop test.


STEM Jeff HeadshotJeff Herold is in his 17th year of teaching. He has taught everything from kindergarten through 12th grade and community college. Currently, he teaches S.T.E.M. to 7th and 8th graders at Hillcrest Middle School in Glendale, Arizona. While not volunteering at local elementary schools at their science nights, he enjoys paragliding, attending professional development, and spending time with his family. His favorite student is his 6th grade son, Skyler.

Jeff is the 2015 Arizona Air Force Association Teacher of the Year and 2015 Arizona Challenger Space Center Educator of the Year. Jeff is a member of The Mars Generation Student Space Ambassador Planning Committee and the Train Like a Martian Planning Committee. You can follow his S.T.E.M. adventures on Twitter @STEMJeff.

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