Airbag-equipped seats promise a soft landing for NASA astronauts

With the Space Shuttle program winding down, NASA is busy developing new equipment that can do the work of the shuttle, and that includes the Orion escape module. While it has performed well in tests, Orion doesn't exactly give its passengers the softest landing, so MIT graduate student Sydney Do has developed a clever system to cushion the impact.

The seat frame is supported by four cylindrical airbags, and Do's drop tests have shown that this provides essential cushioning during hard landings on firm ground. While the Russians have traditionally landed their spacecraft on the ground, until now NASA has always used water landings.

Do used the way seeds are protected by endosperm as an inspiration for his system, which is designed to be fully inflated during takeoffs and landings, then partially deflated to provide comfortable seat cushioning during the flight. He plans to present his developments to NASA this fall.


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