NASA just hit an exciting milestone in testing the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Orion is the follow-up to the now-retired Space Shuttle, and the first spacecraft since Apollo designed for deep space. It could take us back to the Moon and possibly to Mars.
Interestingly, Orion goes back to the capsule design of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft. Instead of gliding to a runway like the Space Shuttle, Orion blasts through the atmosphere like a meteor and then relies on large parachutes to slow it down to 20 mph for a water landing.
Larger than previous capsules - 50% more volume than Apollo - Orion is built to take six people to the International Space Station and a crew of four into deep space for up to 21 days. It also has much faster computers than Apollo - not hard to do - with advanced screens and controls, auto-docking, waste management systems from the Space Shuttle and other advancements.
Watch this video for more exciting details.
Of course, none of that means anything if it never gets off the ground, or falls apart coming back to Earth. That's why NASA had to take Orion out of the lab and put it into space.
Launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Friday atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket, Orion went on a 20,000 mph trip around the world, peaked at 4,300 miles above Earth and then returned for a perfect splashdown four and a half hours later. No people were aboard for this test.
Here's the dramatic launch footage.
I never get tired of watching that. And here's the splashdown video taken by a NASA drone and Orion's onboard footage.
Look how fast that thing is falling. Imagine lying flat on your back in there experiencing up to 8Gs of force!
Now that there's been a successful test, NASA is planning for a follow-up test in 2017. For that flight, Orion will go up using the new Space Launch System rocket - the most powerful Earth rocket since Apollo's Saturn V. It should also have the real service module section being built by the European Space Agency. The service module it used for this test was a dummy.
Congratulations, NASA! I'm looking forward to the future of space travel.