On Wednesday, NASA dropped a test version of its Orion spacecraft out of a military transport aircraft flying over the Arizona desert. During the fall, two of the capsule's parachutes were intentionally made to fail. It was a test to see if the Orion could still land gently when its systems malfunction — and it seems the vehicle passed.
NASA invited The Verge along to the Yuma Proving Ground, where this "drop test" took place. On Tuesday, we toured the C-17 aircraft that carried the Orion up to 35,000 feet. The next day we witnessed the spacecraft fall through the sky, before touching down on the desert surface.
Check out the experience in the pictures below.
- A Boeing C-17 Globemaster III — the type of plane that took the Orion spacecraft up to 35,000 feet.
- The Boeing C-17 — with the Orion in tow — took off from the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.
- The Orion test vehicle's ride.
- The Orion was loaded inside the cargo bay of the C-17.
- Engineers on the Orion parachute team signed the test capsule before the test.
- The Orion's drogue parachutes, which deploy first during descent, were packed in tightly. For this test, only one drogue chute opened.
- The Sun rising over the Yuma Proving Ground on the day of the drop test.
- One of NASA's newest astronauts, Victor Glover, spoke with media before the Orion fell.
- Veteran astronaut Doug Wheelock also spoke with journalists.
- The Orion spacecraft landed gently with only two main parachutes.
- The Orion test capsule came to rest nearly upside down. NASA engineers said this is normal for a desert drop test.
- Foam debris — which made up the capsule's hull — fell off the vehicle during impact with the ground.
- Large chunks of the Orion's foam casing fell off.
- Engineers gathered data from the Orion to figure out what the capsule experienced during the drop.
- NASA engineers gathered up the Orion's parachutes and will recycle them for future tests.
- Engineers probed the Orion's insides.
- Glover stood in front of the Orion capsule — the spacecraft that could one day take him into space.