Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Orion Parachute Test: When Failure Means Success

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Orion Parachute Test: When Failure Means Success

Article excerpt

Sometimes you have to fail in order to succeed, at least that's the theory NASA scientists have subscribed to with their recent test of the Orion spacecraft.

Orion, which is being designed for deep-space travel and could one day take astronauts to Mars, received a bit of a boost Wednesday after a successful parachute failure test.

A representative version of the spacecraft was shoved out of a military aircraft flying more than six miles above the ground in the arid desert of the Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

The model capsule was able to touch down successfully, admittedly with a few bumps and bruises, even after engineers intentionally failed two different parachutes that are part of the spacecraft's procedure to stabilize and slow itself down for landing.

Orion has 11 total parachutes, five of which were relevant to this test. Researchers simulated a failure scenario in which one of the two drogue parachutes, which are "used to slow and stabilize [the spacecraft] at high altitude, and one of its three main parachutes, used to slow the crew module to landing speed, did not deploy," NASA explained in a statement on Wednesday.

"We test Orion's parachutes to the extremes to ensure we have a safe system for bringing crews back to Earth on future flights, even if something goes wrong," CJ Johnson, project manager for Orion's parachute system said in the statement. "Orion's parachute performance is difficult to model with computers, so putting them to the test in the air helps us better evaluate and predict how the system works."

This is simply the latest in a long series of Earthbound tests of Orion's functionality before it sets out into the cosmos on missions. The parachute systems have been stressed repeatedly in the past, and, besides a few engineering issues in the beginning of the program, they have passed with flying colors.

There will be two more tests in the current series of evaluations before NASA starts working on putting the spacecraft through its paces in preparation for manned flight testing. …

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