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NASA crash-test dummies take one for the space team

Meet NASA's sensor-stocked dummies that take the hard knocks for aviation and spacecraft crash tests.

We all know car companies use crash-test dummies for safety studies, but did you know NASA has its own crowd of fake human daredevils?

NASA's Langley Research Center posted a fascinating video on Thursday offering an inside look at its crash-test dummy program. 

The crash-test specialists at Langley in Hampton, Virginia, love to drop big things, like airplane fuselages, helicopters and space capsules. But it's not about just making a big boom or splash. The intrepid dummies go along for the ride so researchers can learn more about how crashes and water landings might impact and injure human occupants.

"Everything that you really want to know about injury occurs in anywhere from one-tenth to four-tenths of a second," says structural impact dynamics engineer Martin Annett. That means sensors in the dummies have to gather a lot of data in very little time, but NASA's tech is up to the challenge.

Crash-test dummies took the fall for a water-landing impact test of the Orion crew capsule in 2016.

David C. Bowman NASA, Langley

NASA uses the dummies to test spacesuits and helmets for astronauts, but Langley also simulates crashes for military and civilian aircraft. The video is full of dramatic footage showing various aerospace and aviation vehicles making hard landings with dummies inside. 

NASA is using the dummy data from crash tests to help direct safety improvements in gear, vehicle design and even seats, which can help absorb energy during an impact. 

We can thank the dummies for sacrificing themselves in the name of protecting astronauts, military personnel and civilians.