For the first time since the 1960s, NASA is testing a spacecraft in the water, seeing how seaworthy it is after a splashdown. It looks a lot like the Apollo spacecraft from years ago, but this Orion capsule is bigger than as its 12.8-foot-wide Apollo predecessor. Orion is 16.5 feet in diameter, and is more than twice as heavy at 31,000 pounds, compared to the 12,787-pound weight of the Apollo capsules. And the tech inside is like the difference between a Model T and a Bugatti Veyron.
Could this familiar launch/splashdown routine have anything to do with NASA's nostalgia for the hugely successful Apollo program? Maybe NASA finally figured out that it's not all that practical to design a space shuttle that returns to Earth on a landing strip, encased in fragile ceramic tiles. This one will ride atop the huge (and controversial) Aries launch vehicle, also currently under development, and take a dunk in the drink as its big finish. Take a look at two more pictures of the watery escapades:
From the looks of it, Orion fared well in its trials which took place yesterday 20 miles off the Florida coast. They'll be testing the moon ship for the rest of this week; no word on whether they'll try to shoehorn six astronauts into this craft that will someday take the sextet to the International Space Station, or the four-person crew that will travel inside it to the moon and back by around 2020. Funding permitting, that is.