Splashdown! NASA’s Orion Spaceship Survives Epic Test Flight as New Era Begins

Dec 9, 2014

Image credit: collectSPACE.com/Robert Z. Pearlman

By Miriam Kramer

NASA’s new Orion spaceship, a capsule built to take humans farther into space than ever before, survived its first test flight Friday, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean to usher in a new era of deep-space exploration for the U.S. space agency.

The Orion space capsule — NASA’s first capsule built for a trip to Mars —  made a bull’s-eye splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 11:29 a.m. EST (1629 GMT) after a 4.5 hour uncrewed test flight. Orion’s key systems were put to the test during the flight, which launched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket, from a pad here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:05 a.m. EST (1205 GMT).

U.S. Navy officials are now fishing Orion out of the ocean, about 275 miles (442 kilometers) west of Baja California, before bringing it to port in San Diego, California. NASA wants to retrieve the capsule to use the valuable flight data recorded during the test.

“Orion is back on Earth,” NASA spokesman Rob Navias said during live commentary. “America has driven a golden spike as it crosses a bridge into the future.”


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10 comments on “Splashdown! NASA’s Orion Spaceship Survives Epic Test Flight as New Era Begins

  • What is the problem with spacecraft failure? It it just they have so many parts that all have to work that no matter how good you get the odds of any one working well, when you multiply the probabilities of success, just one failure takes down the entire mission with alarming certainty.

    It is a matter of supplier companies trying to cut corners?

    Is it a matter we still don’t yet have a complete catalog of all the problems we have to account for?

    Is it simply a matter we have not yet had nearly enough experience, like the early days of aviation?



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  • A quote from Chuck Yeager might help answer your question.

    It wasn’t that the X-1 would kill you, it was the systems in the X-1 that would kill you.
    Chuck Yeager

    Aircraft are essentially simple aerodynamic shapes with engines, they have a large number of things that can go wrong and you can still land, because essentially they are shaped as things that want to fly. You can lose your engine and land, your undercarriage, you instruments, your rudder or your ailerons (usually not both at the same time). If they are well designed they basically fly themselves and most can handle quite a few things going wrong and still be basically flyable. Rockets are somewhat different massive explosive fuels propelling enormous masses by exploding the fuel out the back, they are based on many, many systems many which if they fail could literally blow you up or cause you to loose control (then blow up), fall to the ground and then blow up, tumble out of control at many times the speed of sound and then break up (and blow up). So unlike aircraft which a pilot has a large number of options to adjust things and get down safely or even land normally after any number of failures rockets just don’t want to fly.

    Scott Crossfeild an X-15 test pilot talked about rockets in these terms not an exact quote but close he’s talking in reference to rocket engineers

    “…everything they ever made if it worked they hardly ever saw it
    again, if it didn’t work they hardly ever saw the pieces again and to
    this day they still clap and cheer when it works, I’ve never seen that
    when an airplane flew.”

    Don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-rocket, but you are relying heavily on engineering and systems and back up systems and very little of what you have to do is elegant, more just brute power.



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  • Reckless Monkey Dec 10, 2014 at 5:43 am

    “…everything they ever made if it worked they hardly ever saw it
    again, if it didn’t work they hardly ever saw the pieces again and to
    this day they still clap and cheer when it works, I’ve never seen that
    when an airplane flew.”

    Don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-rocket, but you are relying heavily on engineering and systems and back up systems and very little of what you have to do is elegant, more just brute power.

    That was true in the early days, but things have moved on: –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_engine_test_facility

    There are of course the problems of integrating all the parts, along with budget-driven corner-cutting!



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  • My father was an aerospace engineer with McDonnell Douglas and worked on the F-18 Hornet. He once told me that the systems are so complex on one of those aircraft that you couldn’t take off and immediately land again without something going wrong.

    But my favorite quote is from Astronaut Gene Cernan who was with his buddy looking up at the Apollo rocket that was to take them to the moon when he said to his buddy ” It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence knowing that it was built by the lowest bidder.”



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  • Yes agreed,

    It’s interesting to see the likes of Burt Rutan entering the fray as they are attempting to get around some of what they consider excess costs in NASA. I have long admired Burt Rutan for his innovative aircraft designs and pioneering attitude but it does come with a fair bit of arrogance. I heard I talk he gave (on you tube) shortly after the first successful flight of their sub orbital space ship. He was boasting about how a small group had achieved what space flight at a fraction of the coast of the NASA approach. I could only think that you’ve thus far only achieved what NASA did 50 years ago with Al Shepard and with the benefit of being able to learn from all their mistakes. Space flight is now pretty reliable considering how much can go wrong, they have learned a thing or two but any new design is bound to have little things you don’t anticipate crop up.



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  • Meanwhile, the ISS astronauts have shown that manufacturing tools and parts in space, works!

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/dec/20/iss-astronaut-uses-3d-printer-to-make-socket-wrench-in-space

    ISS astronaut uses 3D printer to make socket wrench in space

    Astronauts on the International Space Station have used a zero-gravity 3D printer to produce a working socket wrench complete with ratchet action – using digital plans that were emailed to the station by Nasa mission control on Earth.

    Engineers at Made in Space, which built the experimental printer, overheard space station astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore mention on the radio that he needed a socket wrench. The company used computer-aided design (CAD) to draw up plans, produced an earthbound version of the spanner for safety certification by Nasa, then had the plans relayed to the ISS, where it took four hours to print out the finished product.

    “The socket wrench we just manufactured is the first object we designed on the ground and sent digitally to space, on the fly,” said Made In Space founder Mike Chen.

    “We designed one in CAD and sent it up to him faster than a rocket ever could have.

    “It also marks the end of our first experiment – a sequence of 21 prints that together make up the first tools and objects ever manufactured off the surface of the Earth.”



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