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Chris (CJ) Johnson, Project Manager for the Capsule Parachute Assembly System Government Furnished Equipment Project
JSC2012-E-102890_alt: Chris (CJ) Johnson, Project Manager for the Capsule Parachute Assembly System Government Furnished Equipment Project

Chris (CJ) Johnson, Project Manager for the Capsule Parachute Assembly System Government Furnished Equipment Project. Credit: NASA

This profile continues a series to introduce the people behind the development of Orion. The first space-bound Orion vehicle recently arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida from Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. At Kennedy, the spacecraft will be outfitted for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), planned for 2014. EFT-1 is an essential step that will allow engineers to acquire critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities to prepare Orion for deep space exploration.


I was born and raised in Langdon, N.D. and have a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the North Dakota State University and a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Houston.

What is your contribution to EFT-1?

We are building the parachute system for the EFT-1 flight test.

Why is that contribution important?

Borrowing words from our technical experts, parachutes are a lightweight and delicate collection of textile pieces that must assemble themselves in midair and act together simultaneously in order to provide the required drag and descent rate for the crew module. When that happens for EFT-1, we want to ensure it happens successfully.

Why do you need this flight test and do you hope to learn from it?

This will be the first re-entry flight test which will further our knowledge of parachute performance under nominal entry flight conditions.

What do you find most fulfilling or like best about your job?

I find that working with our team (NASA, contractor, vendor, military) and working through the technical challenges of the system design are the most rewarding. We are in the process of development testing for the Orion parachute system, which takes a talented team to produce a reliable parachute system and operationally test the parachutes at full scale.

What’s the most interesting part of what you do here at JSC?

The most interesting part of the Capsule Parachute Assembly System (CPAS) project is the full scale parachute airdrop testing we perform. For the Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV) airdrop tests, there are in total 17 parachutes deployed. Nine parachutes are test technique related and are required to pull the PTV/extraction platform stack out of the aircraft at 25,000 ft., position the PTV into the correct conditions after separation from the extraction platform and recover the extraction platform for future use. The other eight parachutes are the Orion system parachutes (two drogues, three pilots, three main parachutes) being evaluated for performance using a variety of instrumentation and cameras for reconstruction. Paraphrasing words from a parachute expert in industry, the successful airdrop test of the PTV (and all that is involved) is one of the most notable achievements in parachute testing history for human spacecraft.

What’s your best NASA memory so far?

One captivating moment was watching STS-122 launch while standing at the Banana Creek viewing site. It was at a time in my career where a truer understanding of the detail behind the design, processing, and operation of such a complex vehicle culminated while watching the vehicle climb the sky with our crew members in it – all knowing the risks that are still inherent to it. It was an overcoming proud moment.

When you’re not at the office, what do you like to do?

I have a variety of hobbies (too many) that I enjoy, which keep me busy, but watching my 16-month-old daughter grow and learn is second to none.

What were your career goals as a teenager?

Plowing fields on the summer farm was not my cup of tea, so it gave me plenty of time to daydream about being an engineer.

Was there someone in your life that influenced you to take this career path, or studies in school?

My father has been my biggest influence. On the summer farm, growing up, I watched him re-engineer and re-build our farm equipment into a better product. There was a lot of hands-on learning of how things worked, and it inspired me to be an engineer.