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Yuma Test Of NASA Orion Capsule Parachute Scrubbed

NASA crew at the Yuma Proving Ground
(Photo by Maya Springhawk Robnett - KAWC)
The NASA crew at the Yuma Proving Ground on June 30, 2016.

Scientists and technicians from NASA gathered in the desert near Yuma early Wednesday morning. They were hoping to test a parachute for the Orion Mars mission capsule — but things didn’t quite go as planned.

Around 6:30 on a windy morning, dozens of NASA personnel gather in the desert of Yuma Proving Ground to drop a “dart,” a stand-in for the capsule mock-up, to test the parachute. Koki Machin, chief engineer for the Capsule Parachute Assembly System (CPAS), said while some aspects of the capsule are designed through calculation, the parachute is understood by demonstration.

“There’s no model for that. The only way we know it works is because we’ve done it and we’ve done it a bunch of times over a broad range of conditions," said Machin.

The capsule will bring astronauts safely to the ground at the end of a mission — in this case, the Orion mission, the spacecraft to send humans to Mars. This drop is the first in the final phase of eight tests for the capsule.

RELATED: NASA Tests Orion Spacecraft's Parachutes In Arizona Desert Last August

Jim McMichael is the systems engineering and integration lead for CPAS.

“We’re in the home stretch, this is our final design. It’s exciting to be able to field this system for ultimately for a human spacecraft," said McMichael.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston and also the first female Hispanic astronaut, said this is a critical aspect for Orion.

“It doesn’t matter how well the whole rest of the space mission goes. If the parachutes don’t work right at the end, you don’t have a successful mission," Ochoa said.

However, by around 8:00 a.m., Ochoa said it looked like they wouldn’t be able to drop the dart, after all.

“Well, it looks like we’re not going to be able to test today. They’re working an issue with the aircraft," she said.

The postponed, or “scrubbed,” test is yet to be rescheduled.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the day of the scheduled test.

2015 Test In Yuma

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Maya Springhawk Robnett was a reporter for KAWC in Yuma from 2012 to 2014.