July 12, 2009
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Now they might breathe a little easier after Nasa successfully tested an escape pod that would parachute them to safety should a catastrophe occur.
The £30m craft was tested at Nasa’s Wallops Island facility in Virginia yesterday. After climbing to a height of 7,000ft the unmanned vehicle splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean with the help of nine parachutes and 16 rocket motors.
After seven seconds the motors cut out and nine seconds later the motors, which are attached to the booster skirt, are detached. The capsule with the astronauts inside is re-orientated and slowed with parachutes. The command module is then released from this capsule, its four main parachutes are deployed and the astronauts float safely to the ground. The whole complicated process takes just under one minute.
The system has been devised as a possible alternative to the Orion abort system, which will be used on Nasa’s Orion crew exploration vehicle.
The Orion spacecraft is set to fly to the International Space Station in 2015, five years after the current space shuttles are decommissioned. It is hoped it will then take the next generation of astronauts to the Moon to live and work.
While MLAS is not intended to replace the Orion abort system, it will provide engineers with more experience in testing spacecraft and has already sparked new ideas of how to design more aerodynamic vehicles.
Orion has been built using technical principles established during the Apollo and Space Shuttle programmes, but incorporating the latest technology.
When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon 40 years ago it was the first computer in the world to have an integrated circuit and could only operate within very defined parameters.
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