Lunar Landing Research Facility

This is the Lunar Landing Research Facility, aka the LLRF aka The Gantry, at NASA’s Langely Research Center in Virginia. It was built in the early 1960s to train astronauts on how to land and walk on the Moon. Now they crash stuff with it.

The Moon, as you may know, has only 1/6 the gravity of our blue marble. So, learning how to do something on the Moon while here on Earth poses a problem. Getting the feel of the lunar lander in full Earth gravity would be meaningless once the astronaut was 385,000 km away trying to get ‘er down on the Moon.

Not to fear! NASA, despite some unit conversion issues, is actually full of some really smart people. So, to allow astronauts to practice landing on the Moon they devised this plan to build a 200 foot tall, 400 foot long gantry that would have a crane and pulley system that would allow a lunar lander dummy to act like it would with 5/6 less gravity.

Walking on the Moon in Virginia.

When they first started using it the astronauts were nailing their landings in only a few tries. Researchers knew this to be impossible on the Moon. They found that the astronauts were using the trees as reference, something the barren lunar landscape would not provide. So, they had to build an entire mockup of the lunar landscape and large walls to block view of anything beyond the LLRF. Once they did this, the challenge of landing was increased to the point that the researchers were satisfied they were getting meaningful training.

Once they started using it, they realized that if an astronaut was suspended sideways from it and walked on a wall they could simulate walking on the Moon. Of course, the blood would rush to one side of the astronaut’s head, making these tests pretty short-term affairs.

Once we decided there wasn’t much left to see on the Moon, the LLRF was repurposed for aircraft crash research and renamed the Impact Dynamics Research Facility. It now has a gantry crane and pulley system that act like a pendulum. An aircraft is lifted up and back then released. Depending on how high up the aircraft is when it is released, and how much it weighs, it can reach some pretty high speeds before hitting the ground.

The site is a National Historic Landmark, and can therefore never be torn down. This is despite NASA’s occasional desire to do so. Discussions have been held to return it to its original purpose for the Constellation program, but with a change in direction that appears to be off the table.

[Image Credits: NASA]

  • tiberiusẅisë

    Stuff like this makes me wonder why so many of the uber-rich build giant McMansions with tennis courts, olympic pools and garages full of supercars they have no business driving. Me, if I had the scratch, I'd have one of these in my backyard.

  • OA5599
    • Mr_Biggles

      Exactly why I don't believe them when they say there are no trees for reference. How would they know if they'd never been? In fact, I'd be willing to bet the trees are 5/6 times taller than here.

      Oooh. Lady exec.

  • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    I love the name: "Impact Dynamics Research Facility" So much better than I could do with "The Smasher" Anyway, serious question now: How did the sideways walking help in simulation?

    • The astronauts were connected to the cables from the gantry and held "up" by them. Then they would walk sideways on a wall. Somehow, they had it all figured out with the angles and earth gravity that the astronaut would "feel" like he was at 1/6g.

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

        Oh, that's actually pretty ingenious, thanks!

      • I've walked sideways while bouncing off of walls more than a few times. I'm just glad there were no cables involved, I'd have gotten all tangled up in them and fallen down.

      • AlexiusG55

        There was something like that, but simpler, in a science museum I went to as a kid (Boston?). It was a ramp with a cart on rails that slid up and down it and a vertical wall at the bottom. You sat on the cart, and pushed on the wall with your feet. The angle of the ramp was such that it was supposed to feel like walking in lunar gravity.

  • Froggmann_

    And now a video of some of the plane squishing goodness…

    [youtube cid43njnYSM youtube]

    Fast forward to 00:41 to start hard-landing a Cessna.