NASA's Orion spacecraft is this generation's moonshot: mankind's first-ever manned spacecraft built to go beyond the moon into deep space. It's equipped with a Launch Abort System that safely lands the craft if a problem occurs during liftoff. This week, NASA drop-tested the system. Falling from 13,000 feet never looked so graceful.
Dropped from a C-17 over the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground, the Orion capsule exited the aircraft on a sled before deploying its parachutes. Unlike re-entry from space, where the craft enters the atmosphere at a controlled angle and the parachutes have plenty of time to slow down the spacecraft, a launch abort occurs while the vehicle is aimed sideways and falling from a much lower altitude. Luckily, it looks like NASA's engineers nailed it.
This is the first parachute test of the Launch Abort System, and if this graceful slow-motion video is anything to go by, it seems the system is working exactly as intended. Test flights are set to begin later this year, in hopes that Orion will go into service around 2021. Godspeed, Orion. [NASA via PhysOrg]