What goes up…

The Apollo 16 Command Module descends under canopy

The Apollo 16 Command Module descends under canopy

Ever heard of Louis-Sébastien Lenormand?

What if I told you that manned spaceflight could never have happened without him, and unmanned flights would all be one-way trips?

In the late 1700’s, he invented and tested the world’s first modern parachute, a concept originally proposed by none other than Leonardo da Vinci.

Without parachutes, no spacecraft could ever be recovered intact, and no astronauts would survive a return to earth.

So how does it work?

When a rocket or capsule is descending after completing the mission, at least one parachute is deployed to slow the craft to the point at which impacting the ground (or water, in the case of manned capsules) will not destroy the craft.

Basically, once the parachute, also called a canopy, opens, it creates a force called “drag”, meaning that it resists the movement of air as the craft moves downward. The larger the parachute, the more drag is created.

So what would happen without a parachute?

An object falling from space without a parachute would reach what is known as “Terminal Velocity”, meaning that it is moving as fast as it can go through the air.

For a falling person, that would mean hitting the ground at about 120 MPH, but depending on their position it could be much faster.

In other words, it would not be the best day ever, but for the craft or astronaut, it would likely be the last.

Think about it. Modern spaceflight depends heavily on an invention that came to be hundreds of years before the first launch was ever even planned.

I wonder if either da Vinci or Lenormand had any idea how much of an impact their visions would have on the world.

So what visions do you have for the future?



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