Elon Musk’s SpaceX simulated a successful emergency landing on Sunday in a dramatic test of a crucial abort system on an unmanned astronaut capsule, laying the foundation for its mission to fly NASA astronauts for the first time.
New York Times reports that usually the destruction of a rocket in flight means a mission is a failure. But on Sunday, SpaceX was demonstrating a crucial safety system of Crew Dragon, a capsule that is to carry astronauts for NASA to the International Space Station.
There was no one on board Sunday’s flight. The passengers this time were two test dummies filled with sensors to measure the forces a real crew would experience should they ever need to be saved by the capsule’s escape system.
At 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, the rocket lifted off at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Spectators on the ground groaned and cursed when the rocket disappeared into the clouds a minute later. But viewers of NASA’s webcast saw a fireball engulf the rocket after the Crew Dragon capsule ignited its thrusters to accelerate away about 84 seconds into the flight.
The system proved itself, even during a phase of the flight when atmospheric forces on the spacecraft are most severe.
The report says that Sunday’s launch was a test of what is known as the in-flight abort system, and aims to verify that the capsule can whisk astronauts away safely from an exploding rocket. It is the last major milestone for SpaceX before NASA permits its astronauts on board.
Via New York Times