NASA carried out a successful test on Tuesday of a launch-abort system for the Orion capsule designed to take U.S. astronauts to the Moon.
The three-minute exercise at Cape Canaveral in Florida aimed to test in almost real-life conditions the evacuation of astronauts from the capsule in the event of an explosion or rocket booster failure.
In the test, an unmanned Orion capsule was launched by a mini-rocket — a repurposed first stage of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Fifty-five seconds after the launch, at an altitude of 9,500 m, a rocket-powered tower on top of the crew module ignited its engines to quickly pull the Orion away from a hypothetical rocket experiencing problems.
In just 15 seconds, the capsule gained two miles of altitude. Then the tower reoriented the capsule to prepare it for descent and disengagement from the tower.
In real-life conditions, parachutes would open to ease the manned capsule's fall toward the Atlantic Ocean.