Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Reporting on science, technology and innovation in Arizona and the Southwest through a collaboration from Arizona NPR member stations. This project is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.Additional stories from the Arizona Science Desk are posted at our collaborating station, KJZZ:

NASA's Orion Capsule Parachute Test Postponed, then Successful

The most recent test for NASA’s Orion capsule parachute system at the Yuma Proving Ground was postponed for two days.  But a successful test did (eventually) take place.  Maya Springhawk Robnett of the Arizona Science Desk was at the Yuma Proving Ground for the test…

The Orion Capsule parachute system was scheduled for the fifth of eight qualification tests on the Yuma Proving Ground December 13th.  The capsule will eventually be used to bring astronauts safely back to Earth from deep-space exploration.  

Before the test could take place, the “back door” of the Boeing C-17 aircraft set to drop the capsule mock-up failed to open.  The event was postponed, eventually taking place Friday. 

The real capsule will reenter the atmosphere at 24,500 mph before slowing to 300 mph.  Butch Wilmore is a 17-year NASA astronaut who has reentered Earth’s atmosphere in both a shuttle and a capsule.  Wilmore says descending at that speed necessitates a reliable parachute system.

“And that creates a lot of heat, a lot of friction,” Wilmore said. “You know, you’re inside a fireball.  And when you get through that portion, you can actually feel the trajectory.  And then, of course, the parachutes start to open and it is quite a ride.”

The test was intentionally designed with a failure.  The mock-up capsule fell from a height of 35-thousand feet and one of the three parachutes failed to open.  The test was considered a success; the mock-up capsule was able to land safely with only two functioning parachutes.

The preceding piece originally aired 12/20/17.

Related Content