Humanity's next trip to the Moon is going to look a lot like it always has, with a bunch of people in a capsule rather than a Space Shuttle, and with a watery splashdown at sea rather than a smooth landing on a runway. NASA got back into the groove this week by sucking its Orion capsule into the bowels of a ship.
In case you haven't been following, you know, space, the Orion capsule was originally part of the Constellation program destined to bring us to the Moon. It consisted of the Orion, the Ares V booster (which was even bigger than the Saturn V that originally took astronauts to the Moon), and the Altaïr lunar lander.
Unfortunately, all that was cancelled in 2010 for being overbudget and "uninspired," because apparently you can't just copy what your parents did in the 1960s and call it cool.
Today the Orion survives as part of the Constellation's replacement program, the Space Launch System. The SLS has many of the same goals in mind, such as a trip to the Moon and Mars, but with less awesome names and a bit more focus.
As such, Orion soldiers on, and like the Apollo program before it, the landing plan is for the capsule to parachute into the sea. Back in the heyday of the lunar program, US Navy frogmen would then swim up to the capsule, attach a few hooks, winches, and harnesses, and would pluck the capsule and the astronauts, respectively, from the ocean and then place them on the deck of a carrier.
That has the potential to get a little dicey, though, so the new plan is to essentially tow the capsule into the amphibious well deck of a ship like the USS Arlington, which NASA and the Navy used this week to test out their plan.
A video of the Navy practicing the recovery is below, but I just found that shot up top so much more impressive:
Next stop, the Moon. Sort of. The Orion capsule isn't planned to fly with astronauts until 2021.
Photo credit: US Navy